A Model for the Christian life both individual and communal.
Over the last decade I have struggled with how to teach a model of the Christian life that is useful both for catechesis and for community life. I have struggled too with a national church church that simply seems to be more interested in being a cultural lobby than being a support for the disciples on the ground of faith. We produce far better statements on social issues than on theologically meaningful materials for our parishioners.
And yes, I mean parishioners. We serve a parish, but we are a congregation. We say almost nothing to the world outside our doors as a church institution, but maybe in an age of personality it is a better witness to be silent and let our character speak for itself. My fear is that we are ashamed of our character and fear who may speak for our personality. How is our character shaped as a people of God? How do we become people of God, and how do we become a people of God?
This frustration really came to a head on a Wednesday night in Phoenix when a leader, vestry member later senior warden, sat in a How to Lead a Prayer class, which I had to fall back on my most basic notes for due to an afternoon that fell apart. So I used the Lord’s Prayer as a simple model of personal prayer, and then looked at how to lead others for maybe five minutes at the end. In wrapping up, Christine looked up at me with wet eyes and said, This is the first time in my life that I feel like I actually know what to do when I sit down to pray tonight. Now I had been her priest for more than a day. She had grown up in the church, but she was a regular member. And no one had taught her to pray. I hadn’t taught her to pray.
I realized something that has become a hall mark of my ministry. We don’t know what we are doing. Richard Rohr says the problem with the church is that unconverted people are trying to convert people. Amen, right? But it is larger than that. We are not disciples of Jesus, and we are not teaching other people to be disciples of Jesus. We are worshippers. We are people who serve other people. But we are not disciples.
Or I should say, “were not.” Over the last six years here at Grace, Traverse City, we have been working out of a model of ministry that took our existing functions as a church and looked at them through the lens of discipleship. I took the ministries of Grace on Post-It notes on a board and moved them around and around to find a way to tell our story. Then I took those categories and prayed about a Christian life. We rolled it out in our children’s program first, then the Vestry adopted this proposed ministry statement.
As Episcopal Christians we
Worship at home daily and together weekly;
Study the Scriptures, our tradition, and what it means to be a disciple today;
Serve our families, our parish, and our world in the name of Christ.
Everything we do is done with an ethic of Welcome
because we are only here by Grace.
Now, almost immediately, I wanted to add that “We Witness to the Gospel of God in Jesus in our lives, with words if necessary, and we Steward this place of resurrection and new life in Christ’s name.”
As I teach what it means to live a Christian life, and I begin to look at a model for teaching churches how to be a blessed community of faith, I have come to see these six categories as encompassing a pretty complete model of the Christian life. No it doesn’t cover fellowship, but I think if we do these things fellowship will happen.
This is the six things I think every member of the church should be able to explain how they do them in their own life. It is the model I hold up for myself and our staff. It is my family’s model, even if we fail at a couple of those things.
I am coming to see that welcome is not enough. This can be a cover for some other statement, but I think it is imperative that the Christian community go out and seek the lost. We cannot love our enemies in any real way from over here on my couch. But it is a creepier mission statement to say “We stalk the lost.” But it sounds good now that I write it.
What do you think? Does this model cover the Christian life? Does it cover your church community’s life? I can tell you that we are growing and have year over year these last six years, and I don’t think it has all that much to do with me. The model points to a reality that the church has to come to terms with: we are only as healthy as our community is a community of disciples. Our faith as a community in only as real as the Gospel lived in our members lives. Our witness is not made on marches but in the marshes where we live our lives.
I am coming to see more clearly that the national church, if such a thing matters at all, has to look to the pews for its purpose and meaning. Lobbying can do good things, and it can do them while the church that makes its name matter dies around it. We have to live a real faith that will change our country and our world. I know our church is international, but its character here in the United States is really definitive here. And we need to address our character before we pretend to have a personality that can show itself in the world.
Character is made in the quiet places where we gather to worship, read our Bibles, and serve soup on a cold day. Character gives up the seat to the poor man and rises on the bus for the woman who just doesn’t want to sit in the back anymore. Character says I would die for you, even while you kill me.