Journeying Together

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.
Luke 10:1-3, NRSV

As the process of working on my Doctor of Ministry comes to a completion, I wanted to take some time to share with you the results of my research. And, I want to share with you my recommendations for our community of faith. I’ll be talking about these ideas in newsletter articles and in small-group discussions, and I’ll be dedicating some time later this spring for a church-wide study of leadership in the church.

To begin the conversation, let’s take a look at the story in the scripture above. In it Jesus sends seventy of his disciples out to do ministry. What are some of the things you noticed as you read the story? The seventy are sent out in a specific way, with specific instructions, to do a specific task.

Notice that the seventy are sent out in pairs. This is a theme of ministry throughout the Bible. Ministry is not something that is done alone, it is done with others. You may remember the verse from Ecclesiastes which reminds us that by working in pairs there is someone to help us up if we fall. Furthermore, Jesus instructs the disciples that they are to take little in the way of provisions with them on the journey. This forces them to rely on one another and the generosity of others as they minister. It is a reminder that we are not in this alone, as “Lone Ranger” Christians, rather we rely on God and on one another to carry out the ministry to which we are called.

It is also important to notice that the seventy are sent out to do the work of ministry. They are sent into towns where Jesus intended to go, not to prepare the way, but to engage in the work of ministry. They are sent to actually engage in the ministry and when they return they are overjoyed that even the demons submitted to their authority, not preparing the way for Jesus to come by later. They are the ones responsible for the ministry.

I have proposed a few changes to the way we structure ourselves for ministry here at Marshfield Christian Church. The first is a transition from the committee structure to a more team-based approach to ministry. Instead of coming to the church board to ask permission to do the ministries to which we are called, it is my hope that the board will be able to equip you for those ministries and then celebrate with you when you report back like the disciples. At first our ministry teams will look very much like our committees have in recent years. However, as time goes on we will be learning together about how to do ministry as part of a team, and some of the structure will change to meet our ever-changing needs.

The first evidence of this is the Board’s decision to change their meeting schedule. Honestly there are many months where the board has met solely because that is what the by-laws state we are to do. As the board moves away from managing the ministries of the church we will not need to meet as often. Therefore the board will meet on the second Sunday of even months, and the second Sunday of odd months will be available for ministry teams to meet and plan their ministries.

This is just the first of many small changes I will be proposing in the months to come. I am more than willing to talk with you about my research and why I think these adaptations are important for us as a community of faith. And rest-assured that I will be sharing my research with the entire congregation in the near future. We are already planning a sermon series on the importance of church leadership during late spring and summer, after we finish our trek through The Story. I, for one, am excited about the possibilities for ministry which await us in the months and years to come!

Uniquely Unified

For a few years now we have joined in two important statements every Sunday morning. The first is our Statement of Welcome. In essence we join our voices in welcoming one another into a time of worship. Secondly we again join our voices to talk about whose we are (God’s)  and who we seek to be (a community of neighbors) as we recite our mission statement at the conclusion of worship each week.

These two statements frame our worship with our identity as Marshfield Christian Church. But, who are we as members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)? And what does that mean in an age where denominational identity has done more to separate us, than it has done to unite us? All-too-often any description of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has included a statement like … “Well, we are like the Baptists, but…”

We have had a hard time defining ourselves because of our celebration of diversity. However, the Council on Christian Unity has come up with ten basic understandings of who we are as Disciples. As we enter Lent, I think it is important to share them with you:

  1. As the starting point, our unity is in Jesus Christ, not in structures or instruments or theological agreement, but in the grace and love of God offered to us and to the world in Jesus Christ.
  2. Thus, unity is God’s gift.It is not something we vote into being. Rather, we receive unity and oneness as a gift from God as we enter into new relations in mission and ministry, service and witness.
  3. As Disciples of Christ, unity begins at the Lord’s Tablewhere we are made one in Christ; and from the Table, we are called to witness to the message of reconciliation, welcome and hospitality that we have experienced in our being welcomed.
  4. Unity is being lived out at home—that is, unity exists in congregational life and in seeing our congregations today as ecumenical communities of faith.
  5. Unity is more relational than institutional.Christian unity finds its life and reality in relationships as we worship together, serve together, and engage in mission together. Today, we are not working on “plans of union” or statements of theological consensus; but rather, we make commitments to engage in deepening relationships with other Christians and churches in worship, confessing our faith, and addressing issues of social justice and peace together.
  6. The task of Christian unity is really about the task of sharing gifts: of learning to give and to receive, in offering the best of our Disciples heritage and tradition, and being open to receive the best from other denominations and traditions in their histories, theologies, understandings of faith, worship styles and spiritualties.
  7. Unity does not mean uniformity in belief or practice: it is not based upon our agreement as Christians, but upon a profound humility arising from our shared life in the Risen Christ. We are seeking oneness in Christ, not sameness in our theologies or worship or practices.
  8. Thus, unity will be lived out with a great deal of diversity. The challenge is to embrace an understanding of church that is bigger and wider, richer and older than we are today as Disciples of Christ.  Unity is not about a loss of our identity as Disciples, but the claiming of a larger identity in Christ.
  9. The challenge of Christian unity in our world today is also a call to interfaith engagement and dialogue: learning ways to encounter people of other faiths in order to live in community with them; to learn from them, develop mutual respect, and discover areas of commonality; and, to witness to God’s love for all peoples in breaking down barriers between persons and nations in the pursuit of peace.
  10. The unity we seek in being reconciled to another as individuals and as churches is finally personal, not simply institutional – and it is grounded in a shared passion for God’s justice.  That is, all exclusion, prejudice and division based upon race, gender, nationality, theology or belief are not simply issues to be addressed or programs to be undertaken, but are experienced personally by individuals—both within the church and in society.