Breaking Disciples

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We’re supposed to be Making Disciples.

God help us if we’re Breaking them.

  • I serve a church of 500 members.  Our worship attendance is about 200.  Where are those other 300?  Did we not reach them with the Good News of Jesus Christ?  Is our message Broken?
  • It’s a good, active church.  Visitors come, but few join.  Why not?  Is my preaching lousy?  Is our discipleship process flawed?  Is the church Broken?
  • My denomination, the United Methodist Church, is struggling.  Our future is up in the air, with questions and votes and conflicts that seem impossible to solve.  What about the active, faithful folks who have committed their time, talents, and treasures to the Church?  What will happen to those who try to ride out the storm?  Will their will be Broken?

Wow, that’s a lot of brokenness. Active disciples becoming disillusioned.  Unchurched folks seeing no reason to commit.  Inactive members who may experience God, but not in our sanctuaries.

Is it possible that we are breaking disciples at a faster rate than we’re making them?

Sort of a Great Decommission.

I’ll admit, there are times I despair and throw up my hands at the seeming futility of it all.  Do you?  Remember, this is not a pastor issue, it’s a disciple issue.  We who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ must find a way to keep going.  To keep trying.  To keep faithful, even when it’s hard.

Hear these words from Hebrews.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  –Hebrews 12:11.

Ah yes, how could I forget?  We who are disciples are supposed to practice discipline.  We’re supposed to persevere.  To strive.   Making disciples is not an easy thing to do, especially when our culture and our own institutions seem at times to be working against the very thing we’re called to do. Especially when WE are just as broken as anyone else.  We must steadfastly believe that the harvest is coming.

  • Truthfully, I believe in what my church is doing.  Good, faithful stuff!  We may not be gaining the dividend of new or renewed believers that we would like, but these things don’t happen overnight. It’s a challenge, but we are trying to make more than we break.
  • And truthfully, I believe in what my denomination is doing.  Yes, there is so much uncertainty to wade through, but we continue to serve the homeless and helpless.  We continue to a be a voice for justice around the globe. We’re trying to make more than we break.

Rather than despair, I’ve decided I am going to double down on my own discipleship.  Inviting, connecting, loving, and sharing Good News.  Will you join me?

It’s a tough, fragile world, but remember this, fellow Follower:

Christ broke himself,

to fix us all.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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A Laity Bill of Rights

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Let’s stop right here, before I get started.

I’m not a member of the laity, and I’m pretty sure a laity bill of rights should be written by laity.  But, at the risk of “clergy-splaining”, I want to throw a few things out there for your consideration, laity.  Freedoms and protections I believe should be inalienable in The Church.  Use what you want, and throw the rest away.

  1.  The right to think.   Just because you have a dazzling pastor or a Harvard trained Sunday School teacher doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your brain at church.  Some churches tend to tell you what you should believe.  I don’t go there.  I see the church, and it’s leaders, as teaching you HOW to believe–how to engage in disciplined, faithful inquiry.  Will your pastor make a strong case for the quadrilateral or prevenient grace?  Absolutely.  But how (or if) you integrate it into your walk of faith?  That should be your job.
  2. The right to bare arms.  Heehee.  Simply put,  I believe a church that puts a dress code over and above hospitality is already a dead church.  That said, different churches have different cultures.  If you’re wearing a tuxedo and everyone around you is in cutoffs, you may have a different concept of reverence.  There may be a church culture that fits you better.
  3. The right to accountability.  Here’s what I mean:  Lots of older churches (and their leaders) have allowed accountability to sort of drift away.  Being a member of a church means…attending occasionally?  Putting a few bucks in the plate once a year?  I find myself guilty of letting my congregations down in this way.  Laity who sign on for the adventure of discipleship deserve to encounter discipline along the way.  Discipline shapes the life of a church, in terms of expectations, opportunities, and structure.  If you’re going to make a commitment to a church, that commitment should challenge you, engage you, and work to form you into the disciple you’ve committed to be.
  4. The right to disagree.  You believe in creation, but your pastor teaches that it’s just a metaphor.  Do you have to change your beliefs? (Or change your church?)  No.  It’s okay to disagree.  Your Sunday School teacher tells you animals don’t have souls, but your dog Pearl (r.i.p.) was the most loving creature you ever met.  Do you have to sully her good name because your teacher said so?  No!  This may be obvious, but I think there are laity who forget they have the right to disagree.  It’s even possible to disagree without painful conflict or separation.  Great conversations can emerge from seeing things differently.  Just the same, if you find your pastor on the opposite side of the fence every Sunday, you also have the right to rethink if this church is truly feeding you.
  5. The right to be safe.  Churches are those rare buildings that actually house a “sanctuary”–a place of refuge and safety.  That could be said of the whole church property.  That’s the fervent goal, anyway.  There are times, it pains to say, when that right is violated.  You also have the right not to be bullied for your belief or any other reason.  You have the right to be safe at any age and in any situation.  These are rights we strive so hard to assure.  But sometimes, through negligence or evil, this right can be painfully violated.  God forbid, but were something like this to ever happen…
  6. You have the right to remain silent.  But I hope you won’t.  Instances of abuse are traumatizing, and we see one example after another of people who have waited decades to speak up in the face of that painful occurrence.  If you ever experience something that makes you uncomfortable or threatened or exposed, I truly hope you’ll tell somebody that you trust.  This is bad stuff, and it can threaten the rights of everybody in the church.  And if you are that trusted person somebody confides in, you have the right–no, RESPONSIBILITY to do right by them.  Listen to them.  Believe them.  Reach out to others who can help.

This is such a short list.  Maybe some laity out there will offer their own lists of rights.  I pledge, as a clergy, to listen and respect every word.Maybe I should be focusing on a bill of rights for pastors.

Hmm. Here’s a start:

1. We the clergy have the right to … pretty much all of the above, too.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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You and Eunice.

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I’m looking at both of you.

YOU, and Eunice.

YOU is the person God created you to be.

Eunice (You-ness) is who you actually are.

YOU is the ideal.  Your Skills, potential, discipleship, idiosyncrasies, you name it, all in perfect working order.

But most people that meet you meet Eunice.   That’s the day-to-day version of yourself, far from ideal.  Your you-ness.

Eunice is the not-quite-up-to-your-potential part.   The doing-the-best-you-can part.

Most days Eunice is a solid 83% of what YOU were created to be.

On a rare day, when thriving and fulfilled, Eunice may come across as  a whopping 93% of YOU!

And occasionally, Eunice bottoms out at a terrible 41% that you wish you could forget about.

Make sense?

YOU is the goal.   Eunice, your You-ness, is the reality.

Now…

Remember in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus talks about Salt and Light?  (Matthew 5:13-16)

Jesus is encouraging you to strive for the YOU you were created to be.

Not settle for some lesser version of Eunice.

Salt is made to be salty!  Light is made to shine brightly!  Anything less than that isn’t living up to what these things were created to be.

YOU were made to be salty and bright, so to speak.

YOU have the ability to add flavor to Life — to help others taste the goodness of the Kingdom.

And  YOU were created as a bright and shining reflection of the God who made YOU.

So when people see YOU, they catch a glimpse of Almighty God.

But, when you settle for a life of run-of-the-mill Eunice, chances are you’ll have a run-of-the-mill-faith lacking flavor and sparkle.

You will never completely leave your Eunice behind, as you strive for YOU, but Jesus wants us to be salty and bright and that requires the deliberate work of discipleship.

To bridge the gap between how you were created and how you tend to live will require hard work and faithfulness.

But I guarantee,

If you can make something of Eunice,

You’ll be Gladys.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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image from www.christianfocus.com

More Lerts

More Lerts

A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.–Acts 20.9

“Be A Lert!  The World Needs More Lerts!”

Funny stuff, no?  That was a poster in my bedroom as a kid.   It was from the back of a Mad Magazine.  And it’s amazing how little my sense of humor has developed since that age.  I still think it’s hilarious.

I feel sorry for Eutychus, though.  There was no Alfred E. Newman around back then to teach him these important concepts, and it burned him.  Twice.

The first time Eutychus failed to be alert was when Paul was speaking to those gathered there.   Paul was leaving the next morning, and he had a lot he wanted to share.  It was a lot of material, and long about midnight, Eutychus just drifted off to sleep.

Hey, it happens to the best of us.   As a pastor I’m always aware when someone in the congregation drifts off in the middle of a sermon.   Most of the time, I let them sleep, unless they’re snoring!  I do wonder what it is that’s caused them to be not-so-alert.   Did they not sleep well?  Did they have a big night last night?  Is my sermon painfully boring?  It may be a variety of things–and Lord knows I’ve drifted off at my share of sermons, lectures, and presentations as well.   I wanted to be alert, but I wasn’t up to the challenge.

The second time Eutychus failed to be alert, it almost cost him his life.   It was a crowded room where Paul was speaking, and the young man found an open spot to sit–on the ledge of a window.  He didn’t just fall asleep.   He fell three stories down.   The good news is that he didn’t die after all.   Paul ran down and checked him out and said, “There’s still life in him!”  I can picture his mom scolding him later…”what were you thinking, sitting in an open window?”

Unfortunately, that happens to the best of us, too.   We put ourselves behind the wheel of a car when what we really need is 40 winks.  We find ourselves in tense work situations we can’t navigate because we’re distracted by a thousand other things.   We want to make good choices, but we’re not clear-headed enough to do so.   When you’re not alert to the world around you, life can become a constant worry.

Being A Lert is a challenge in this world.   Too much coming at us, too much to process easily.   The truth is, God needs Lerts, for the world.  That’s not something Alfred E. Newman reminds us, but something Paul and Jesus were very clear about.    God needs people who take care of themselves and focus themselves and are prepared to give God and the world everything they’ve got.

Being A Lert means being up for the task of discipleship.  It means that if you find yourself in a precarious place — even perched on a third story window, you can say, wide awake:

“What, me worry?”

Have a great week,

Mitch