Friday, February 26, 2010

Equipping the Saints for the Work of Ministry

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ -- Ephesians 4:11-12, NKJV
One of the most challenging things to do in the church is to equip people for ministry. It is challenging in a number of ways. First, it is challenging because people have so little time available to them that sometimes they barely have time for the ministry to which they believe God has called them, much less time to be trained or re-trained. However, perhaps the bigger challenge to equipping people for ministry is not in the equippees, but in the equippers--we who are leaders in the church. Frankly, it is a whole lot more efficient in the short term to do things yourself than it is to teach others to do them. It also means that the tasks will be done to one's own satisfaction and in the way that one wants them to be done. That being said, it is profoundly unbiblical to do things ourselves. Even if we are doing ministry "solo" we are really doing it in partnership with God, and God wants to be in partnership with us. God is all-powerful and could simply think something and it would be done. Yet God models for us a partnership in which human beings are integral to God's work in the world.

I write the above because we are at the beginning of a five week Lenten Series that I've entitled "Being an Episcopal Christian." In that series we'll explore what it means to be a Christian, an Anglican, an Episcopalian, and a member of this parish and diocese. At the same time, the Diocese of El Camino Real has begun their Diocesan Center for Spiritual Leadership with a session this past Saturday at St. Paul's, Salinas. Here are some highlights:

The challenge for me, and for many people I suspect, is to take time to both be equipped for the ministries to which God has called us and to take time to equip others for the ministries to which God has called them. God give us the strength, especially this Lenten season, to have the discipline to do so.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Church: Restaurant, Hospital, or Birthing Center?

I just posted an entry on my personal blog and wanted to share it with those of you who follow this one. Specifically, I wanted to share this part of it:
The idea is that we join in this meal [communion] at God's table after we have been born (actually, re-born) into God's family through baptism. In other words, we're born and then we are fed. That makes a certain kind of sense. However, if one takes this metaphor a bit further, how are "pre-Christians" or yet-to-be-(re-)born Christians fed before they are born into God's family? In other words, what provides the "womb" in which a person's first cells of faith can grow and the "umbilical cord" that provides the "nutrition" or spiritual food without which the unborn-again person will spiritually starve? It seems like, for Sara [Miles], that umbilical cord was, at least in part, communion itself.

I don't know exactly what to do with this metaphor, but I do think it is worth asking whether the church is a place that provides a safe place for spiritual growth and the "food" necessary for such growth or whether the church can only provide solid food, as it were, to those already in God's family. If it can only feed those who are already Christians, then we become essentially spiritually barren--unable to receive the gift of the beginnings of a new life that is growing within someone and nurturing it to in climax in someone's rebirth. Thomas Brackett, the Program Officer for Church Planting and Redevelopment of the Episcopal Church, talks about "midwifing" what God is already doing--nurturing it and helping it along. How might we best do that, I wonder, and what would it take to move from hospital or restaurant to birthing center?
I can't shake that image of the church as birthing center, the place where people come to get that little spark of spiritual life within them nurtured and fed so that it grows to such an extent that it actually transforms them and they are re-born into the family of God. Perhaps part of it is that I'm about ready to launch a Lenten series entitled "Being and Episcopal Christian." This week, I am preparing for the first session, which is simply called "Being a Christian" and thinking about what exactly it means to be a Christian in twenty-first century America and how we might need to change things in the church to make it more faith-nurturing and less faith-assuming. Seems almost like Jesus lament in this coming Sunday's Gospel reading that he longs to "gather [their] children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and [they] were not willing! " (Luke 13:34) Perhaps many people are now willing to be gathered, and the church has forgotten how to do so. Food for thought.

Friday, February 19, 2010

40 Days of....?

After a brief interlude following Epiphany, the church calendar now plunges us into the 40 days of Lent (Sundays don't count--being festival days--so that's why it isn't 40 calendar days). Those 40 days are meant to call to mind the days of our Lord's temptation in the wilderness--and not a peaceful, shady wilderness like I'm used to in Oregon and Northern California, but a desert wilderness. A friend of mine passed the following along. See what you think...

I sometimes think that our world is in a sort of wilderness time. Certainly our church is! There seem to be many, many problems to overcome. Health care reform, poverty, greed, joblessness, etc... At the same time there seem to be so few people, especially in the political arena, with the courage to confront and even begin to address these problems. In the Episcopal Church, we continue to wrestle not only with the obvious issues of sexuality but with what I would consider the more important and more basic issues of meaning and purpose in the 21st century.

We are firmly now in a post-Christendom society, especially here in Silicon Valley. People need a compelling reason to be involved in a church and that involvement means not being involved in the myriad of other possible things available. How do we in the church recapture that core sense of transformational power that is the essence of the Gospel and then translate it into a compelling witness to the world? It is a question that other generations have had to grapple with, but we are at that 500 year point that Phyllis Tickle writes about in The Great Emergence in which everything is pretty much up for grabs. My contention is that it that uneasiness, that dis-ease, which is infecting the church and causing us to be less confident of the Gospel we proclaim, not any issue like sexuality. May this Lent serve to remind our own congregation and the wider church of the power of the Gospel message amidst the temptations of the world.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Godly Discernment, not Program Development

Last Sunday was the Annual Meeting of St. Edward's and we had what I thought was a good meeting. I extended myself slightly, technologically speaking, and put together a PowerPoint presentation to summarize the Annual Report which was well received and we had some good discussions. This week I'm doing preparations for the annual Vestry Retreat which begins with a dinner on Friday evening at the Gooding house and continues with a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. visioning and planning session at the Balcunas cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains. Not a bad way to spend an evening and a day!

In my sermon on Sunday I talked a bit about discernment--specifically, discerning God's will for us as individuals and as a community. That's really what we were doing as a congregation at the Annual Meeting and what we will be doing as a Vestry at our retreat. We aren't burdened with the task of coming up with some whiz-bang, foolproof way of doubling the size of our congregation in a year's time or otherwise coming up with some 'resurrection plan.' We are merely to enter into God's presence, to quiet our hearts and minds, and--in the silence of our hearts and in the discussions between us--to discern God's will for St. Edward's and to begin to put people, plans, and policies in place to carry out what God wills in partnership with God. No human agency could have planned the resurrection, the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, nor any of the myriad of large and little miracles that are sprinkled throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus' earthly ministry. Similarly, I look forward not to planning for God, but planning in partnership with what we know God is doing and will continue to do through us.

Before we even get to the people, plans, and programs, we will also ask God and one another: What is the new St. Edward's? Who are we as a congregation? What are our values? What are our strengths and weaknesses? What is unique about us? Such questions of identity and character necessarily precede planning. This, too, will be an ongoing process.

More to come!