This year marks the tenth anniversary of my ordination. It has taken all this time for me to finally come to a few pretty basic conclusions about ministry in the local church.
1. There is usually a very big difference between what a pastor is saying or thinks she is saying and what the congregation hears.
2. Perception is more important than reality.
3. Congregations tend to filter the radical message of the gospel. They don't hear the radicality; they hear the gospel as supporting evidence for already held beliefs. The message is manipulated by our ears and our brains to conform to our expectations.
4. When people hear a pastor say the gospel is political, they hear the pastor say, "The gospel belongs to my partisan political viewpoint." We need to be much clearer in communicating that "politics" and "partisan politics" are very different concepts. And, that the gospel in 100% political in nature.
5. People are hungry for the gospel. We just have to find a better way to make it real.
I come to these conclusions after years of teaching courses on the politics of Jesus (which are kingdom of God politics) only to watch congregation members get mired in conflict over whether Jesus was a liberal or a conservative. I have watched my congregations reflect back to me their experience of a sermon, a stewardship drive, or a teaching that is markedly different, even antithetical, to what was intended. I also sit in holy conversation with members, constituents, and visitors and listen to them tell me about their deep hunger for meaning and for a sense of power in an overwhelming world.
There is a disconnect happening in our churches that I believe begins with a fundamental misunderstanding of what church is and what the gospel message is. Church is a community that enters into both the belief and the practice of God's kin-dom. We do so even while this world exists and tries to deny our foolish endeavor. Church is a community that practices an alternate way of life even while living in the cities, neighborhoods, and even families that are based on a different set of principles and values. The gospel is an invitation into this life. It is an invitation to believe in love and grace in a world of hate and vengeance. It is an invitation into the economics of abundance and the politics of radical hospitality.
As followers of Christ, we are asked to step outside of the preconceived notions of our world and to live in an alternate world, in an alternate way. In this alternate way of life the resurrection is not a superstition, it is a radical invitation to life in the midst of death. Birth narratives are not fairy tales, they are stories of meaning saying to us that life is pulled from barren places as well as from virginal places. Miracles show us that God's power stands outside of the power of the state which proscribes and prescribes.
We need to recover the radicality of the gospel and re-infuse Christianity with it. Until our perceptions of the church change, our understanding of politics is transformed, and we become ready to be changed by the gospel rather than changing it to meet our needs, we will continue to struggle in a futile battle to domesticate the wild and radical message of God. And the hungry will not be fed.
I wonder what the next ten years will bring.
- ► 2013 (13)
- ► 2012 (34)
- ► 2011 (33)
- ► 2010 (34)
- ► 2009 (31)
- ► 2008 (56)
- ▼ May (8)