I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a global “Leadership Summit” within the United Methodist Church. No, I did not travel around the world, but through the wonders of modern technology, we were joined live with United Methodist clergy and laypersons from literally all corners of the globe–Phillipines, Zimbabwe, and most of our United States conferences, to name a few. We talked about what it means to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We discussed what exactly it meant to strive toward the goal of having vital congregations and vital disciples. As I was sitting there listening to part of the presentation, I asked myself what thing probably most stands in the way of a church being a “vital congregation” or a person being a “disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” What do you think it is? The thing that popped into my head is self-preservation.
I typed preservation (not even limiting it to the “self” variety!) into an online concordance. Do you know how many times that is mentioned in the Scriptures? Guess. The answer would be zero. Yes, zero. There is no place that I know in the Scriptures where God calls us to a practice of self-preservation. There is no place where God calls congregations to be self-preserving of who they are, of what they think, of what they’ve accomplished, no place where God wants us to make sure that we have beautiful buildings or comfortable facilities, no place where God calls us to be safe and secure and risk-free.
|St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
(Voted one of the fifty most iconic buildings in the city)
(Now, I need to offer a point in the spirit of full disclosure here: I am privileged to worship and lead worship in a space that is truly amazing! It was built in 1929 and is one of the most magnificent cathedrals in Houston, if not the United States. I am truly thankful for it. It provides both emotional and spiritual food for me. That said, there is indeed a fine line between allowing it to be transformational (as it is!) and making sure that we preserve it for our own edification. It is difficult to be a part of a congregation whose building is its greatest asset and at the same time its largest possible detriment. It is a walk of faith between the two. Thanks be to God! )
You know, I don’t think there’s any where in the Scriptures where Jesus tells us not to rock the boat or make waves or push people beyond where they are comfortable going. If I’m remembering correctly, Jesus turns all those nicely set tables and beautifully-constructed worship spaces completely on end! In fact, we’re actually supposed to be more in the surrender mode, letting go of all those things that “make” us, that wall us off from each other and from God, that stand in the way of our becoming who we’re called to become, and throwing ourselves into this journey of faith, risky as that may be.
Lent is the season when we are acutely reminded of this. It is the season for letting go, the season for fasting from the usual, the season for surrendering our lives to the cross. I have read a lot of Lenten resources and studied the Lenten Scripture passages. I do not recall being asked to hold on to what I’ve been given for dear life. Because, you see, that is not life. Life is not about preservation; life is about laying everything aside and following the One who gives you life. Life is about loss at the very depth of our soul to the point where we have nothing to lose. It is at that lowest point of letting go and losing all so that we will truly preserve life. Resurrection happens in the shadows of crosses, not in the bright lights of success.
So, what makes vital congregations and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? I would contend that it would be letting go. In fact, start running…God is way out ahead of us!
So, in this Lenten season, let go. It is there that you will find the Cross and it is in the shadows and darkness of the Cross that you will finally see the Light of Life.
Grace and Peace,