Recently, the congregation I serve was blessed to have a visit from one of our Assistants to the Bishop, who came to answer questions about the process of calling a long-term pastor. I felt that some discussion would certainly enter into this, and I felt it would be good to give some healthy parameters for that conversation. At the same time, I felt it would be best for me not to be present in the room during the session, so that members of the congregation might speak freely. Therefore, I wrote up the following guidelines, which I hoped would aid the members of the congregation in having a healthy, fruitful discussion. With a little editing, I present them here in the hopes that other leaders in a variety of settings will find them useful.
1. Use "I" as the subject of all statements.
Using "I" as the subject of one's statements ensures that a person speaks only for him or herself. It also helps avoid the use of language that might imply that others share the speaker's opinion without their consent.
2. Refrain from using “collective language” and making “blanket statements.”
This includes statements that make use of words like “everyone,” “all the time,” “never,” etc. Everyone doesn't do everything all the time. And we cannot presume to include everyone else in our statements, nor can we make generalizations about how the other members of the group may feel.
3. Refrain from making statements that do no identify a speaker.
Assertions that begin with words like “Some people are saying…” are not helpful and do not further discussion in a positive manner. The speaker should always be clearly identified as the one making the statement. One should not speak for others. If someone has something to bring to light, he or she should do so of their own accord in their own voice.
4. Use positive statements rather than negative.
A statement that begins with the words “I would prefer if…” is more helpful than a statement beginning with “I don’t’ like it when…” Positive statements that demonstrate what we find helpful generally receive a much healthier response from others than complaining about what we don't like.
5. If you disagree with something another member has said, be clear that you disagree with their statement and give a reason why.
No one should attack another person or their beliefs personally. As well, it is not enough for someone to simply say they disagree. We should be willing and able to articulate our reasons for disagreeing. (This all goes for agreeing with another member as well.)
I hope you find these guidelines helpful, and I'd be glad to hear if you have any to add.
There's a lot of fear and trembling going on in our country right now. Some are afraid of anyone bearing a Muslim religious identity. Others are afraid to take in refugees who are fleeing for their lives (often because they are Muslim). More continue to be afraid of any immigrants to our country, regardless of their origin or religious identity. Some are horrified at the thought their guns will be taken away and their Second Amendment rights violated. Others are appalled at the hateful and bigoted language now freely being spewed in the political arena- fearful that it may become commonplace, or worse, somehow be seen as acceptable. And still more are fearful of the general political climate in our country, which continues to polarize the citizens of our nation.
Because we fear change. Sometimes rightly so. Sometimes because we let our imaginations get the best of us.
Change is from the realm of the unknown. Change leads us into a new and unfamiliar place. Change can have unforeseen consequences. And we fear what we cannot fully understand or explain. We fear what we cannot control. We fear having the world as we know it turned on its head.
Yet it was with such fearful change in mind that John the Baptist preached the coming of the Lord. John was aware that the coming of the Messiah would cause a great transformation in the world. It would be a massive shift- for God's people and for the whole of creation. And not everyone wanted to see that happen.
The Jewish priests and religious leaders of the day were not happy to hear John's message. The idea that the Lord was coming among them upended their whole worldview. In their minds, it was up to the people to come to God- through the rituals of the priests, of course. Encountering God meant showing up at the right place, the Temple, at the appointed time, usually a feast, to offer sacrifices and prayers. God did not simply show up. The Lord did not come to his people and walk among them. The very idea of this upset priestly power and position, and they were not the least bit interested.
Herod, the king ruling over the Jewish people at that time Jesus was born, was even less pleased. When he heard that the prophecy stating the "King of the Jews" would be born among God's people was soon to be fulfilled, he was enraged. His power and authority would now be at risk too- and he was willing to kill innocent babies to prevent that from happening.
Others simply feared John the Baptist was crazy. Why in the world would he tell people to make ready the way of the Lord? How could he expect the Lord to come among them? Wasn't God in some far off heaven, looking down on them?
Yet some found hope in John's proclamation. Those who were oppressed by the religious hierarchy, the Jewish royalty, and the Roman Empire were eager to hear a message of change. They were OK with the power structure being dismantled. They might not have fully understood the ramifications of the change at hand, but surely the coming of the Messiah to set them free bore a glimmer of hope. For the Lord truly cared for his people if he was planning to come and dwell among them.
Certainly, the change that came with the promise of the Lord's coming was fearful- no one could have possibly understood its full implications but God. Yet it was also hopeful. Hopeful, because God was not simply at work- God was in the world.
And that hope remains with us.
In the midst of our fear and anxiety, God is not simply looking down on us from afar. God is among us. Jesus the Lord has come to us, is with us, and is coming to us again. All that God is has been made known to us in flesh and blood. It has been revealed in Jesus' teaching to love God and one another, and in his willingness to lay down his life for us. And what he has done, what he is doing, and what he has promised to do has changed the world forever.
We're not always sure exactly what his coming will look like. We're not always certain how and when Jesus will show up, or exactly what he will do when he comes to us. And sometimes, we might not like the changes he brings, or be ready to handle its consequences.
But in his presence there is always hope. Hope that no matter how the world around us changes, God's presence among us in constant. Hope, because the world has been transformed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hope that not matter what crises present themselves, no matter how much hatred is spewed into our world, no matter how much political turmoil plagues us- the loving presence of God will endure.
That is the crazy, earth-shattering message that John the Baptist preached. And for those of us who are crazy enough to believe and have hope in that message, we don't have to live in fear of people with differing religious views, political persuasions, or ethnic backgrounds. Because we will endure all the fearful changes the world can throw at us in love and hope, because the Lord has come among us.
I keep seeing it. I see it written somewhere on the internet almost every day.
I keep hearing it. I hear it from the "experts" who apparently know so much about our generation's wants and needs.
And I feel it- that uncertainty about how the Church can reach a generation that doesn't seem to have a huge "investment" in the "institution."
We're "nones." We're "dones." We're over it. We've had it. The Church has no appeal to us. It has nothing we want. We've walked away, and we ain't comin' back.
That must be why I responded to God's call to ministry, because I'm over it with the Church and don't feel like the Body of Christ has anything to offer me.
Perhaps the problem the millenial generation has with the Church isn't the Church itself. Maybe it's the way the Church is lived out- or perhaps the fact that sometimes it doesn't seem like it's being lived out at all.
Let's be honest- our generation can smell bullshit from a mile away. And we've been disillusioned by more than one institution. We were raised by a generation that bought on credit and helped set up the economic crisis we all now face, including those ungodly student loan debts and a shattered housing market. We know our politicians lie to us- almost without exception. We've watched the right- and left-wings of the political spectrum polarize during our lifetime. We know how the rest of the world views the U.S.
And we know how many people in the U.S. view the Church. I remember realizing at some point in high school that the biblical fundamentalists and literalists were becoming the loud, angry voice of Christianity in America. And I feel like we let that happen. The "mainline" voices couldn't be heard over the din of uberconservative flag- wavers and Bible-bashers, hating on strong women, gays and lesbians, racial minorities, and anybody who doesn't agree with their Christamerican politico-religious bent. And sadly, we as a generation watched as our nation came to view that as the Church, and many of us ran far, far away.
But we as a generation are not ignorant of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Many among us, even in the "unchurched" crowd, are aware of who Jesus is and what he taught. We know he preached grace and mercy, love and forgiveness. We know he healed the sick, ate with sinners, and didn't judged other people based on what they looked like or where they came from.
But we see the Church doing it. We see it even among our "progressive" denominations.
You're either one of us, or you're not. You belong to this community, or you don't. You either conform to the mold and like it, or you get the hell out. If your skin color, political viewpoint, or sexual orientation make you seem "different," or if the questions and ideas you come with put you at odds with the church- well, that sucks for you. Because you won't find any open arms or answers to your tough questions inside the walls of far too many Church buildings.
But what if we changed all that? What if maybe, just maybe, we accepted that many of us in the Church act more like the religious leaders Jesus challenged than Jesus himself? What if we openly, continually acknowledged that we are all sinners in need of God's grace? What if we reflected that grace out into the world and offered the same loving embrace to others that Jesus offers us? What if we started living like we're Christ's body in the world and stopped putting so much stock in "the way it's always been?"
Because guess what? There's one thing about the millenial generation that does ring true: We're done with the way it's always been. Not that we don't love tradition and the ancient rites of the Church- contrary to popular belief, many of us are drawn to them. We're just done with the bullshit. We're tired of people saying one thing and doing another ALL THE TIME. We're sick of people trying to tell us how godly they are when their speech and behavior are so far from God that Jesus Christ is hardly recognizable in their daily lives.
We want none of this.
What we want is authentic, loving, grace-filled communities. We want to hear the Good News proclaimed and see it lived out among God's people. We want to see the Body of Christ embracing all people just as they are- just as Jesus does. We want to see the Church care more about the poor and the immigrant and the downtrodden than people with money getting their own way. That's what we want; that's what we need.
And it's what the Church needs.
We're not done with God, Jesus, or the gospel. We're just done with God's people being disingenuous.
People of God, Body of Christ, Church- hear my prayer: Receive God's offer of grace to become more like Jesus Christ, the one who died for us. Be his presence here on earth. Show his love and grace to the world. Because neither the millenials nor the the world are done with the Gospel. We just need to see it in action and feel its impact in our lives.