How Are You Serving the Place Where You Are?
How Are You Serving the Place Where You Are?
The older I get the more tempted I am to fall into certain rhythms, routines, and habits. I am tempted to drive the same route each day when I’m heading to the office. At the restaurant, I am tempted to order the menu items that I know that I will enjoy. Before I go to bed at night and when I awaken in the morning I have the same routine.
The older I get the more predictable I have become.
The same is true for our church. The older we have grown as a denomination, the more predictable we have become. You hear it quite loudly in many of our churches:
“We worship at this time.”
“The service only lasts this long.”
“These are the persons who are our leaders.”
“This is the way we do things around here.”
The older we get the more predictable we have become.
For several years now I have disciplined myself and challenged those under my care with three significant questions for our leadership and for the day-to-day practice of ministry. They are reminders that force me to think outside of the box and open me to the depth of God’s presence in new and refreshing ways.
When is the last time you have gone someplace where you wouldn’t normally go?
The God you and I serve is far greater in scope than our human minds can comprehend. When we allow ourselves, even at times force ourselves, to go into places and situations where we wouldn’t normally go, the more we open ourselves to the power and presence of God at work in situations that are beyond our perceived norms and habits.
Several years ago, I filmed a video about leadership. In one of the scenes, it was very noticeable that I was filming in a place where “people like me” wouldn’t normally go. The criticism from some circles was very vocal. Yet, the content of the video was about how we as Christians in the 21st century need to go to places where we wouldn’t normally go in order to share the good news of God’s love.
How are your habits and rhythms, both individually and as a church, limiting the depth and awareness of how God is at work in the world? When is the last time you went somewhere that you wouldn’t normally go?
Do you really know the context of the situation in which you have been placed?
On a personal level, my context is changing. I have come to the clear understanding that if I drink caffeine in the evening I won’t sleep well at night. I know that when I push myself physically I will be sore in the morning. I know that if I eat spicy food it will upset my stomach. This has not always been the case. I used to be able to work late into the night. No more! My context is changing.
One of the clear realities of life in the 21st century is that we live in a world that is also rapidly changing. For the most part, the settings in which our churches have been constructed have a completely different context today than when they were first planted. Over the years some churches uprooted themselves and relocated in places where their current context was residing. But, on the whole, most of our churches have remained in their original setting and, on the whole, have struggled to relate to the changing context around them. To understand the context of the situation in which you have been placed takes daily discipline and strong doses of courage. It is informed by research, acquired through interaction, and assimilated by a willingness to simply say, “something may have to change around here if we are going to remain relevant and vital.”
Do you understand your context? If you do, how are you adapting to it?
Are you loving the people you are called to serve at all costs.
If we live within the constraints of our long-standing rhythms and routines, we will be tempted to define “the people we are called to serve” as the existing membership of our local churches or the clientele within our extension ministry setting. This limited definition is predictable, comfortable, and easily identified.
At annual conference this year I fixed each appointment with these words, “You are not appointed to a building. You are appointed to the community in which that building resides. Use that building as a mission outpost for the ministry of making disciples for the transformation of the world.”
In other words, the people that we are called to serve cannot and should not be confined to the names on a membership roster. Rather, they should be the names listed on the latest census data within the community. When the bishop of Bristol, England, suggested that John Wesley abandon the mission outpost he named, “The New Room,” Mr. Wesley’s reply was simple, yet profound, “I consider all the world to be my parish.” So should we.
Are you loving the people you are called to serve? What are there restraints or hesitations that are standing in your way?
The other day I found myself on a local train coming from Grand Central Station back to White Plains. At each stop I began to notice something that was truly disturbing to me. In each station the majority of the people standing on the platform had their eyes fixed on their smartphones! No one was interacting. There were no conversations, no head nods, no smiles. Station after station filled with people who were immersed in the tiny cubicle of their world confined to the screen on their phone.
In a world of routine and rhythm, we are tempted to do the same. The comfortable confines of our offices and our church buildings are insulation to the realities of the world moving past us. To go to places we wouldn’t normally go, to completely understand the context of where we have been appointed, and to love the people we are called to serve requires the courage to look up and look around. It challenges us to speak words of grace and invitation. It pushes us to put aside our agendas and our habits in favor of a relationship that offers grace, hope and blessing to everyone involved.
As we begin this next year of ministry together in the settings where we have been called to serve, may each us have the courage to go into places where we wouldn’t normally go, the will to understand the context in which we were placed, and the desire to love our people at all cost.
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
(“The Summons,” verse 1, by John L. Bell & Graham Maule)
May it be so!
The Journey Continues, . . .
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton