This is a serious question. Let me contextualize it in my experience today.
I am currently sitting in my hotel room in Franklin, TN. where I am attending the “New Room 2014” Conference. New Room is being run by Seedbed and the Wesleyan Covenant Network and has employed the tag line:
“Let’s rediscover pre-denominational values for the post-denominational age.”
Or something along those lines.
Primarily, the conference is looking at the missional value of the Wesleyan tradition for the 21st century world. Today we had a statistical/academic/ecclesiastical/missional master-class by Ed Stetzer. And then, right after that, we had a missional reality check and kick in the arse from Deb & Alan Hirsch. I have been tweeting quotes from their talks all afternoon as a means of remembering and sharing what I am learning/relearning. The call from both presentations has been pretty much the same: the Wesleyan movement is well positioned to unleash the gospel on the world, but the movement has been institutionalized and is suffering as a result.
I cannot disagree with anything that either of the presentations highlighted in terms of the plight of churches. United Methodism’s numerical stats do not make pretty reading. Alan Hirsch said it best when he pointed out that the world does not actually reject the message of God, Jesus and Spirituality. In fact it embraces these three things in it’s own way. However, it does reject the church. In Hirch’s own words – there is no problem with the message. The message is loved. But the means by which the message is communicated another matter entirely. The church is rejected and for so many in the west, it is a complete irrelevance.
The Deb Hirsch added to what Alan had set up by calling the church back to a missional existence. She challenged by suggesting that the only way to connect with people is to do just that: connect with them. One of the best things she said was that it is no good knowing ABOUT the people that the church has been called to. Rather the church needs to be INVOLVED and CONNECTED to those that she is called to.
And the things is that as she spoke, she was not talking about the church as some distant entity from me and the rest of us that were listening to her. As she talked about the need for the church to be connected, she was talking to me about the need for me to be connected to the very people I am called to.
I realized then that I am not anymore.
Through rugby I always was. I had a place where I could be connected outside of the church to people who I was called to. I even did my third year ministry placement in the rugby club by becoming a chaplain of sorts in that place and experimenting with forms of church and conversation in that context.
Then I graduated, got commissioned, and ordained, and got older, and got a bad back, and now I have no more rugby. Now I have lost that place of connection and I find myself in a new country and a new community, and I am becoming more and more steeped in the every day maintenance of the institution and I am less and less connected to the everyday reality of community life. I have forgotten that I too am called out of the church premises and into the community. I have forgotten that I am called to be connected with real people in the real world; to be present with them.
Deb Hirsch spoke of the “6 P’s” of incarnational living: Presence; Proximity; Prevenience; Powerlesness; Passion; Proclamation. The ugly truth of my current reality is that I only really recognize one of these right now – the last one. My continuing fear is that in my ordination and the ordained life I am actually closing myself off from the people I am called to rather than moving closer to them. I am leading a church and inviting them to be missional, but I am not living what I am leading and as Ed Stetzer reminded us today – that is a nonstarter of a project.
So what do I do with this? How do I begin to find ways to connect with the community in ways that are meaningful, relational and intentional?
As I begin to think that question through some, I find myself leaning towards establishing relational connections with the school across from the church. Either that or some kind of pub and prayer walk thing that would take me out of the church premises and into the community of which i am a part. I don;t want to be that pleasant big pastor from Ireland who people call on when someone is sick or dying or dead? I want to have a prophetic voice into the community. I want to be active and relational in the community.
I need to repent of my failings and rejection of relationships and start again in connecting with the community i now find myself in. Ordination has been getting in the way of that in as much as I have been allowing it too. That needs to stop and I need to find places and ways to live the ordained life in the presence of the community to which I am called. Please, Jesus lead me in this.
“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” Thats what John said in his first epistle.
Jesus, you were present in the communities you ministered in and you were present with all kinds of people. Help me to live as you did, and let my claim to live in you be true.