The fact that scripture is written by people doesn’t mean that its language or truth is limited by its human authors. Writing itself is only ever a product of human community and can never be more than words on a page that we choose to accept or reject as an act of both remembering the stories that wrote us and transforming the stories we leave behind.
“Until we learn to truly listen, until we care more about how someone else feels than about the letter of the law, until we stop forcing our agendas and start treasuring children of God, the world isn’t going to change.”
Sometimes being seen and heard is all it takes for everything to change. That’s a fundamental conviction I carry with me in all that I say and do as a pastor. We don’t need to put on some idealized or cartoon-ish mask of holiness and perfection. We aren’t called to say the right “church words” or hide behind Christian sounding concepts and ideas. We need to be seen and heard for exactly who we are – and to realize that through Christ we are loved and treasured all the more for it. If we know that kind of embrace, there is nothing we cannot do or face in life. If we never find it, no amount of knowledge or action or fight will stop the ground from shaking beneath our feet.
To be seen and heard does more to empower the life changing work of God’s grace than any tidbit of knowledge or interesting idea or compelling argument every could. The most pressing and needed work of the church is to create the space in which God’s children from all walks of life are able to come together and experience what it means to be seen and heard. To be treasured is to know the sure foundation of the love of God, AND to offer that love to neighbors near and far.
People on the receiving end of mission work are not clients who need fixing. We are all children of God who deserve to be seen.
I like to connect the dots – doesn’t matter the subject, that’s how my mind works. I had a bit of a revelation a few weeks ago about how the mission, vision, and overall work of our church life fit together with our Methodist convictions about grace and theology. This is my attempt to put into words the connections that I see quite clearly. To be sure, nothing is intended to be as linear as it necessarily appears on paper – but doing justice to the interconnected workings of the God, church, and individuals is not my intent. What seems worth trying to articulate is the sense of a discernible structure that I see for the what and the why of church life and disciple making.
The UMC defines our mission as “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It’s a great step to clarify why we exist as a denomination and individual churches, but the obvious next question is ‘what is a disciple and how do we make one?’ To both embody our quest to fulfill that mission and answer this most obvious question, FUMC Texas City has discerned a systematic and operational definition of that mission that correlates to our theology of grace. That wasn’t exactly our intent, but the result came into sharp focus for me. Our mission is to do what disciples do and make more in the process – Encounter Love. Grow Together. Inspire Change. Putting theology, discipleship, and church life into relationship with one another looks something like the following:
Put more into sentences – the grace of God goes before us, making God’s love present in our lives long before we know to turn and look for it. When we encounter the love that has been there all along, our immersion into God’s immersion into us sets all things right and draws us back to fellowship and relationship. That fellowship invites us to grow in our relationships with our neighbors, near and far. As we begin to move forward from the moment of encounter that sets us right and makes growth possible, we receive sustenance at the table as God’s grace continues the work of making us more holy and more like Christ. The more we become like Christ, the more we embrace God’s invitation to join in God’s mission to change the world and experience the kind of life God makes possible. We change the world by creating the spaces in which our neighbors encounter the love that is made present by the prevenient grace of God.
Given this framework for understanding God’s nature and action in relationship to our response and lives, we have explored the following question – Where does God’s work to change the world intersect with our heart for doing ministry? That process of discernment yielded a clear focal point for our ministry in the coming season.
Our vision for ministry in our next season of life is to ensure that a) every child in our neighborhood will find in us a place of love and acceptance, and b) every parent knows they have a partner in us for the difficult journey of raising a child. In directly missional terms, we hope to create spaces in which our neighbors will Encounter Love in a deeply meaningful and lasting way. If we can be that kind of presence for our neighbors, we can change the world.
If you add “Refusing to respond to the overt harm someone else causes” to number 2 of the cycle and remove “apologizes” from number 3, you have a pretty good summary of the presidency so far. To understand why his leadership is so destructive and yet so hard to specifically call out for some, I can’t think of a better framework than this cycle. Replace “of course racism is evil and the KKK is repugnant” with “of course I didn’t mean to hit you and I never will again” and you get a sense for how the (news) cycle plays out. Having someone like him in power is so insidious because most of the worst acts of violence that actually affect people don’t look anything like the ‘stranger danger’ or the ‘foreign terrorist’ that we’ve been taught to fear; they look exactly like what we see every time he takes just about everyone who isn’t like me on a ride around the cycle of abuse. Intelligent, well meaning adults can disagree about all kinds of policies, priorities, and prerogatives – we cannot abide an abuser-in-chief.