There is often a chasm between what we say is important and the actions we take which reveal what is truly important (like saying “we want to make disciples,” then counting “worship attenders.”) to us. Something is always driving us, but identifying exactly what it is isn’t always easy. You would think that “faith” would be a big driver in the church, but talk to many of our leaders today and it is evident that “fear” is our guiding value. “Spiritual maturity” would make sense as a core value, but “church membership” is apparently much more valuable. “Lives touched” is a noble value, but “dollars given” occupies a lot more of our time and attention. Here is a list of core practices and values that we claim are important – coupled with the behaviors that tell a deeper story in today’s church:
There is an excellent concept from the Greek — synderesis — where articulated and lived values align so closely that no one can tell them apart. Wouldn’t that be a cool goal for The United Methodist Church? Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we stopped working so hard to emulate the secular culture and we modeled a better way to be in the world? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would stop asking ad agencies and corporate hucksters to tell us who we are, and turned to our Biblical and theological roots instead?
We are in our season of Thanksgiving here in the old U.S. of A., so perhaps it is time for a simple shift. Let’s actually be thankful for who we are, where we are, what we have, what we know, what we can do, the difference we can (and do) make, and the future God is unfolding before us. Let’s stop crying about all we have lost, what we lack, what we are not doing, who we don’t want in the church, how hard it is to be Christian, how people don’t really want to be disciples, and just get over ourselves. Let’s pray that God might help us be who God wants us to be, and quit trying to rationalize and justify ourselves through our studies, tables, task forces, and reports. We have much to give thanks for, but until we quit living in fear and trying to “brand” ourselves as something we are not, all we will do is feel bad about ourselves. Hard to say thanks for what you don’t really want or appreciate. It’s too bad our leadership is so ashamed of who we are and what we do. It is doubly sad that we are paying exorbitant sums of money to glam campaigns to give us an ecclesial make-over that makes us more palatable to those who don’t much care about us. We need a different set of values driving us — a set of values that thinks God is good enough and that the church is bigger than we are.