“You Are Not Doing Your Job”

14 02 2012

BY ALISHA BAUMAN,
Carmel, Indiana, USA

A few months back a non-church friend confronted me about a serious issue.

“Why haven’t you invited me to church? You are a minister. You are not doing your job.”

I quickly invited him to church, feeling that is what he wanted to hear, and I apologized for not doing it before. I now realize those were not the right words. I thought about what I would be inviting him into. Then I thought about everything I knew about him and his personal journey. I really did not want to invite him to church.

What he really craved was an invitation to Christ.

There is more to the invitation than we like to admit.

To invite people to Christ, we open ourselves to becoming relationally vulnerable. It is saying we will stand by them, walk with them, hold them to conviction, and promise to never give up.

We are called to follow Christ. We are examples to others. If we do not know our own relationship with Christ, then we will end up leading others in circles to nowhere.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. —Hebrews 3:13–14 NRSV

Many are out there—some poor, some rich—and they cry out for something more.

We each hold a light like our relationship with Christ. Imagine sitting in a dark room, and you are the only one with a light. As you get up to leave, others in the room beg you not to go. All you can assume is that they just want to take advantage of you. They may not understand what the light is you hold. They just know it makes the dark not so dark.

Are you willing to share the invitation and walk with them to a real relationship with Christ?

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Youth Ministries “Haunting, Daunting, and Promising”

10 02 2012

BY MIKE HOFFMAN, Youth Ministries

I am called to be a youth minister. While I now serve as a mission center president, I still sense this call.

Last summer I served as the pastor to junior- and senior-high camps and taught at SPECTACULAR. While I sometimes feel I am aging, so many more times I get joy from the responses of young people to the mission of Jesus Christ.

In Community of Christ, youth ministry started in the 1840s. Leaders felt the need “to correct the follies of youth, to guard against temptations to which they are exposed, and to aid in charitable enterprises” (Church History, Volume 2, page 642).

Youth Ministries Day grew out of Scout Sunday. It’s set aside to think about the relationships between young people and the church, to honor their contributions, and to recognize those who serve in youth-ministry leadership.

It’s a good day to consider the bigger picture of youth ministry in your congregation and mission center: the “haunting questions,” the “daunting challenges,” and the “promising possibilities.” These are sections of OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook, edited by Kenda Creasy Dean. She’s an associate professor of youth, church, and culture and director of the Tennent School of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Many themes from this book echo my experience. Some “haunting questions”: Does youth ministry matter? Do our practices reflect Christ? Do we accomplish what we imagine?

“Daunting challenges” include responding to the expanding ages of adolescence while realizing young people are exposed to more adult themes and responsibilities at a younger age. There’s also the changing context of our ministry: the sense of place (in an Internet world), the faster pace of life that has become normative, the challenge to live generously.

Despite these questions and challenges, the book and my experience also relate “promising possibilities.” They include how more of our youth ministry zeroes in on theology. It focuses on practices of discipleship and the emphasis on relating youth ministry to the mission of Christ—following Jesus Christ into the world.

In this book, I found an ally in how I feel and want to face the future in youth ministry.

For many, including me, youth ministry has seen major shifts over the last two decades. There is a restlessness—a realization of these shifts and an uncertainty of how to move forward.

Today, youth ministry includes a wide range of efforts and purposes. It’s organized and communicated through technology not even imagined a generation ago. It’s intergenerational, relational, and most recently missional.

In Community of Christ, the development of a clear and compelling identity has blessed youth ministry. The enduring principles, mission initiatives, and basic beliefs provide a solid foundation for our identity and mission in the world. It’s a mission many youth find captivating.

As adults involved in youth ministry, we focus on helping younger people develop for service: inviting people to Christ, abolishing poverty and ending suffering, and pursuing peace on Earth. The Disciple Formation Guide (www
.CofChrist.org/dfg
) provides a great way to wrap my mind around essential questions in responding to those in our youth ministry.

Youth ministry’s challenge is to make it tangible. This is dependent on local ministry—specifically the congregation and community. We are called not so much to gather in youth “groups” but to send youth as developing disciples who minister to a world in need.

As we plan for Youth Ministries Sunday, our challenge is to be faithful to the past, and to discern and pursue how the mission of Jesus Christ will impact our ministries and the lives of young people now and into the future.





Seeing and Living “the Vision”

8 02 2012

BY GWENDOLYN HAWKS-BLUE, Kansas City, Missouri, USA

Do you see the vision?” “So what?”

President Steve Veazey asked these questions when he spoke at the Temple to more than 70 people at the 2010 African-American Ministries Retreat. The questions resonated with me. What does it mean to fully embrace the vision of God’s peaceable kingdom here on Earth?

What Is “the Vision”?    

  • Love prevails and God is worshiped, revered, and obeyed.
  • Peace and goodwill toward others according to the principles Jesus showed.
  • Each person empowered to live at his or her highest level.
  • Acceptance of the gifts and talents that each brings to the kingdom-building process.
  • Spirit of God manifested by all.
  • Interaction with each other and creation in compassionate and just ways.

William T. Blue

Each phrase captures some piece of the reality I believe God intends for creation. My perception of “the vision” has grown through experiences with the Holy Spirit, interactions with others, Spirit-filled sermons, prayerful deliberations as the chair of a diversity task force, membership on the Standing High Council, and participation on the International Leaders Council.

Embracing the stories of the Holy Spirit working with people who are different by culture, ethnicity, socio-economics, gender, or sexual identity inspires and lifts me to a broader understanding of “the vision.”

“So What?”

The 2010 African-American Retreat focused on some African-American giants in the church: George Graves, Aaron Johnson, Amy Robbins, Pauline Frisby, William T. Blue, and Lynn Stubblefield. We also included Josiah Henson, a former slave and ancestor to several current church members.

These individuals have shared distinctive testimonies and gifts, bravely living their commitment to “the vision.” They are giants because they took bold steps beyond personal fears or society’s expectations to become kingdom builders.

They responded to their calling although society did not fully accept them, their ethnic group ostracized them for belonging to a “white man’s church,” and they suffered indignities from the very faith community they embraced. They saw “the vision” beyond the status quo of their day and worked to make it a reality.

Others who embrace “the vision” inspire us. Prosper Carl, a white leader in East St. Louis, Illinois, made it possible for black youth to attend church amid fear and resistance from other white members.

Helen Carty

In Alabama, Helen Carty risked losing a job she desperately needed when she supported “the vision.” She approved a black couple for an insurance policy they were eligible for but would have been denied because of discrimination. After her action, the company changed its practices.

“So what?” is the challenge and call to action for all of us. We must be loving and compassionate, recognize the Worth of All Persons. We must be good stewards and work for justice and peace daily. It is not enough that we “see the vision.”

We must help make it a reality.

Can “the Vision” Be Distorted?

Experiences throughout my life have told me we can and sometimes do distort or narrow “the vision.” We become myopic and see “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV).

Amy Robbins

As an African-American youth in the church, the segregation laws of that time restricted me. My parents had meals at our home for fellowship with white church members. They never brought their children, and they did not invite us to their homes. So my interaction with white church youth was limited to summers, when my parents worked as cooks at church reunions in Alabama.

Segregation laws made working at reunion the only way we could attend. I and the white children lost opportunities to see the inclusivity of God’s vision within our church.

When we accept what is most comfortable based on our cultural views, biases, or practices, our vision is narrow. At times we limit ourselves to the status quo even when it conflicts with Christ’s message of the worth of all persons. When we do this, we lose many who could play an integral part in our church’s effort to establish Zion, God’s kingdom here on Earth.

George Graves

Seeing “the Vision” as Community

The blessing of being a prophetic people is that we continue to grow and receive clearer understandings of “the vision.” Women in the priesthood and people of color as apostles are evidence of a broader “vision.”

Through our current “vision,” we see that others outside Community of Christ have authority. This change of perspective does not in any way divest us of our role in kingdom building. Rather, our understanding of “the vision” is more inclusive.

Tony and Charmaine Chvala-Smith, church theologians, describe how we have proclaimed who we are as a church. We have transitioned from being prophet-centered, to church-centered, to Christ-centered.

I am humbled, challenged, and emboldened each time I read the first two sentences of Doctrine and Covenants Section 163:

“Community of Christ,” your name, given as a divine blessing, is your identity and calling. If you will discern and embrace its full meaning, you will not only discover your future, you will become a blessing to the whole creation.

Being Christ-centered as a community of faith gives us a clearer “vision.”

Pauline Frisby

The We Share document, enduring principles, and five mission initiatives describe “the vision” in daily actions. They provide practical ways to live our discipleship.

The International Leaders Council exemplifies a more-inclusive “vision” by church leadership. For the first time, a body brings together International Headquarters staff with international and national church leaders from multiple ethnicities. Together we speak and listen to each other, striving to discern God’s will.

Together, we struggle with tough issues facing the church. Despite misgivings or long-held traditional beliefs, our deliberations are genuine efforts to allow love to prevail. We work to be open and vulnerable, sharing hopes, fears, and experiences, recognizing we are at varying places of understandings.





The First Signal Community: Acts 2

6 02 2012

by ANDREW BOLTON

The purpose of Acts is “to tell the story of Christ and his new community in such a way that the values of the founder and his immediate successors might be emulated today.”

—William Willimon1,
Acts (Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching)

Acts of the Apostles?

Perhaps this New Testament book would be better called Luke Part 2, for the writer of Luke’s Gospel also wrote Acts. Or perhaps this book should be called Acts of Peter and Paul, because Peter dominates the first chapters and Paul the later chapters. Or is the book better called Acts of the Community, for the first Christian community is the focus of its story.

However, it might best be called Acts of the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts is about the presence of God breaking into human history in a profound way through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…and his first disciples.

Acts chapter 2 begins with the dramatic, startling coming of the Holy Spirit.2 As the Holy Spirit moved on the face of the waters to begin creation in Genesis 1:2, so the Holy Spirit, in re-creation, comes like a mighty wind, filling the entire house where the first 120 disciples were at prayer.

The Holy Spirit then appears like tongues of fire, resting on each of them. They are filled, then speak in other languages so the outside crowd marvels at hearing God praised in their own languages (Acts 2:1–11).

The Holy Spirit, in birthing the first Christian community, does so through a richly diverse and international crowd.3 God loves and delights in creating variety and is now affirming the human diversity God authored. The later stories of Cornelius (Acts 10:1—11:18) and the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1–32) in support of the inclusion of the Gentiles already is hinted at here.

Explanation of this dramatic Holy Spirit event is now needed for the crowd. A new, bold, Peter stands with the other apostles to bring meaning from the events of this extraordinary prayer meeting.

“They are not drunk,” says Peter to quash one cynical suggestion. What is happening, says Peter, is promised by the prophet Joel, that in the latter days, God will pour out his Spirit on all: young and old, men and women, even slaves (Acts 2:12–18).

We are in the latter days, and our old name still claims us with the promise of this spiritual endowment, even in the middle of our uncertain times. Crises and fears must be “before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day” (Acts 2:20). Yet we are reassured that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

Peter then fearlessly preaches to the crowd that Jesus was crucified, killed, and then raised up by God. The hope that comes from the power of God to raise Jesus dominates Peter’s message.

Peter quotes David4 to support his argument that the Messiah would be resurrected (Acts 2:22–35). This is fact, of which all the first apostles and many other disciples are witnesses. This fact of resurrection, and now the coming of the Holy Spirit, changes everything for Peter…and for us.

Yet we first must come to terms with our complicity in the violence of the present age. Peter now challenges the crowd with these words:

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified. —Acts 2:36 NRSV

We crucified? Perhaps seven weeks earlier, when Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus (Luke 23:20–23), some of the present crowd had shouted “Crucify him!” Perhaps others had allowed the cruel slaughter of an innocent man by their silence in the same crowd.

Today is no different. Voices raise for war or execution, and those who are uncomfortable remain silent in self protection. Nearly half of our federal taxes in the USA go to military spending.5 I make a bigger contribution to war through taxes than to peace through tithing. Every one of us has a hand in crimes of violence against innocent people, but we do not see it.

In this story though, the crowd now sees it:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” —Acts 2:37

Peter gives the crowd a way out of the hell of guilt and self condemnation:

Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” —Acts 2:38–40 NRSV

Many seize Peter’s offer of a way of salvation:

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. —Acts 2:41 NRSV

How do they now live? These new disciples joined the 120 others, forming a new kind of human community:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. —Acts 2:42–47 NRSV6

This first Christian congregation in Jerusalem is what we would call a “signal community.” What are the signals of the first “community of Christ” congregation?

  1. The first signal is being devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42).a) What are the apostles teaching today? We hear again the first apostles’ testimonies of Jesus. For us today this means that we are devoted students of the gospels, we know the stories of Jesus. We read Acts and the letters of the Apostle Paul. We traditionally have called ourselves a Restoration church. This means returning to the stories of Jesus in the gospels, returning to the example of the early Christian church, to drink again at the source, to read and understand the New Testament.

    b) What is meant by being devoted to the apostles’ fellowship? This means we are in fellowship with today’s leaders: pastors, mission center presidents, apostles, all those who bear witness of Jesus today and serve in his name. Christianity is both knowing the Bible and being in fellowship with leaders of a living community centered in Jesus. Of course, leaders can fail us, but the church has processes for dealing with this. Christianity is about being in relationship. We learn the gospel in relationship. We are glad to be together.

  2. The second signal is breaking bread at home and eating with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:42, 46). This suggests hospitality, a shared table, inviting others into our lives as family. A discipline of one contemporary urban Christian community in Germany is eating at least one meal a day with other members of the community. Eating together forms community, creates a sense of family. There is also a connection here with Communion.
  3. The third signal is praying together. A Christian congregation is a people who spend time in prayer, enhancing their personal and communal connection with the Divine.
  4. The fourth signal is the abolition of poverty. A signal community centered in Christ shares materially with those in need. They abolish poverty. There are no rich or poor. All are stewards or managers for the good of all, and the good of all beyond their fellowship.
  5. The fifth signal is that this community does not create victims. It stands up for the worth of all persons, resists crucifixion and violence, and pursues peace/shalom in society. Convicted members of the crowd repent of shouting for the crucifixion of Jesus. They find forgiveness and a new beginning through baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They now form a victimless community.7

The story in Acts 2 begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit in a dramatic fashion. The story in Acts 2 ends with people living in righteous relationship together.

Holy Spirit is embodied in holy community. The Apostle Peter proclaims Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. A community of joy, hope, love, and peace is created from a crowd of the guilty. It is possible for people to find a way out of hell. It is possible to accept an invitation to join with Christ and grow as a disciple who learns to serve. It is possible to have another chance at beginning life again in a new way. We sometimes have called the kind of community described in Acts 2 as Zion.

To quote William Willimon again, the purpose of Acts is

“to tell the story of Christ and his new community in such a way that the values of the founder and his immediate successors might be emulated today.”


FOOTNOTES:

1. William Willimon; Acts – INTERPRETATION, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Know, 1988) p. 5

2. Source of the concept ‘startling’ see Beverly Roberts Gaventa; Acts Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2003) p.3.

3. ‘never was there a more international crowd in Jerusalem than at Pentecost’ see William Barclay; The Acts of the Apostles, Revised Edition (Philadephia: The Westminster Press, 1976) p. 21

4. Acts 2:25-28 see Psalm 16:8-11; Acts 2:30 see Psalm 132:11; Acts 2:31 see Psalm 16:1

5. This estimate is based on the average of War Resisters and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) analyses (see http://www.warresisters.org/sites/default/files/FY2012piechart-color.pdf and http://fcnl.org/assets/flyer/taxchart11.pdf War Resisters estimate 48% of USA Federal taxes go for past, present and future wars. FCNL, a Quaker lobbying organization on Capitol Hill, estimate 39%. In both cases, Social Security is taken out of their calculations. The US government added in Social Security, a trust fund, in the Vietnam war to hide the real cost of that war. Social security has stayed in ever since, distorting the reality of how Federal taxes are spent. The prophetic message of swords into ploughshares is still timely (Isaiah 2:2-4). So are the words of a final speech by US President Eisenhower in 1961 warning about the military-industrial complex http://www.h-net.org/~hst306/documents/indust.html.

6. There are arguments that all things in common was not really practiced by the early Jerusalem church. However, see William Willimon ob cit page p.40

7. Acts 2:36 speaks of the crowd’s participation in the “victim mechanism”. To understand how the “victim mechanism” works see: Rene Girard; I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2001)





Haiti Rebuilds with Hope, Love

4 02 2012

by Andrea Read
Haiti relief coordinator, Community of Christ and Field Operations, Outreach International

Solid roofs have replaced tarpaulins in many structures as the church and Outreach international continue to work in Haiti.

The catastrophic earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010, toppled buildings, claimed lives, and brought misery.

But it didn’t destroy hope, love, and generosity.

Nearly 1½ years after the earthquake jolted the already-impoverished nation, I visited Cite Soleil, one of the poorest slums in the Western Hemisphere. There, I met the pastor of a Community of Christ congregation who also served as director of a school.

He no longer had a building to house the church and school. All gatherings and classes took place under a temporary shelter with wooden poles and tarpaulins. We had come to discuss his needs.

But when we met, his first words weren’t about the desolation and poverty that surrounded him. They were of concern for the people of another tragedy that had happened just days earlier—the life-taking tornado in Joplin, Missouri.

“My prayers are with your family and people in Joplin. I am sorry to hear of the sadness there.”

His generosity of spirit and love deeply touched me, especially when I reflected on his loss and the heart-breaking conditions of his own community.

That sense of generosity and love is lifting Haiti. And the partnership of Community of Christ and Outreach International is playing a key role in rebuilding congregations and schools.

The impact goes beyond mere buildings and the initial disaster response. That’s because in Haiti many congregations offer schooling to their communities at little or no cost. Some of these schools receive funding from Outreach International for academics and meal programs.

So the generosity of finance and heart has touched lives in many ways. I returned again from this impoverished island just a few weeks ago. I am proud of the many victories at our schools and churches.

Outreach International, partnering with the Digicel Foundation, a Haiti-based group, coordinated the first school reconstruction finished in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of Port-Au-Prince. Also, we’ve repaired three school/church buildings and finished two water and sanitation projects with many more projects ahead—thanks to the generosity of our congregations and Outreach International supporters.

Even so, more challenges have complicated the situation. Difficulties with land ownership have been significant roadblocks to reconstruction. With the influx of foreign organizations following the earthquake, costs skyrocketed for building, transportation, and local professional consultation.

Transportation in particular is difficult in Port-au-Prince and regionally. In some places, where there are no roads, the only way to churches and sponsored schools is to walk—sometimes as much as eight hours on rough mountain paths. But other hardships—a cholera outbreak, tropical storms, hurricanes, and political unrest—have sapped the attention of community leaders.

Hand-washing stations are helping provide good hygiene in new buildings.

But while responding to these challenges and focusing on rebuilding efforts, we still have accomplished much!

Outreach International has maximized the impact of gifts by partnering with other groups committed to rebuilding Haiti. They have offered monetary and in-kind support. Article 25, Digicel Foundation, Jubilee Action, Just a Drop, HELP, and UNICEF are among our new partners.

All 16 church/school sites in the earthquake area have undergone rigorous structural and engineering assessments. Besides the reconstruction and repairs, we have demolished and cleared two sites. We’ve finished water and sanitation upgrades at three schools, and rebuilt the school at Croix des Bouquets better than it was before. Six more building projects are in the planning stages.

Outreach International, with consultation from Community of Christ, also increased the number of schools in the meal program (15 now offer hot, nutritious lunches for malnourished students). Other improvements include cholera-prevention seminars and kits for schools in Cite Soleil, hand-washing seminars to promote good personal hygiene, and thousands of dollars in school supplies and uniforms.

The generous response of Community of Christ members and Outreach International contributors has played a key role in helping to rebuild Haiti. It’s an uplifting example of living out the peace and mission of Jesus Christ. Through that mission, there is hope. Hope lifts us up, comforts us in struggles, and inspires us in ways we never thought possible.

It hasn’t been easy. In Haiti, I quickly learned that if I expected things to look the same, cost the same, or move at a similar pace to my own culture, I would live in constant frustration. Personal prayer and reflection changed that.

Now, with every visit to Haiti, I find restored hope—hope for today, and hope for what is to come.





Accelerate!

2 02 2012

by K. Scott Murphy, Council of Twelve Apostles

“Let the evangelistic ministries of the church accelerate.”

These eight words form the final sentence of Doctrine and Covenants 164:8.

I like the word, “accelerate.” Something about it stirs a sense of movement, forward thinking and action, and power and exhilaration.

In many ways “accelerate” describes what has been happening in the church since the articulation of our mission initiatives. In these mission initiatives, President Steve Veazey is taking the church deeper in an understanding of the mission to which the church is called.

The mission initiatives also have created a sense of acceleration for the Council of Twelve Apostles. These dedicated leaders have made tremendous sacrifice to lead mission in the fields. They do so with passion and hope as they work together to expand the capacity for mission in more-significant ways.

So, how does the Council of Twelve respond to the challenge to accelerate mission? We intentionally engage in the practices of discernment as a means to discover where and how the Spirit is calling us to join in the work Christ is already up to.

Last September, the Council made a covenant to journey together weekly in prayer and reflection. We did so because mission is not something we do alone. Giving time to seek God’s guidance in how we continue to respond to mission is an essential step toward action.

In December, our week of meetings allowed us to hear the stories of how the global church is living out mission initiatives.

We shared insights from our prayerful journey. We asked ourselves difficult questions to take us deeper in our understanding of mission. We pondered how we could continue to make the gospel and church relevant for a new generation seeking connection with God.

We discussed strategies of where we sensed the Spirit calling us to expand our capacity for mission and where to plant the church in new locations and nations.

Following our December meetings, our most important work took place. We began to take our insights and strength as a council to where mission matters—in the fields, congregations, and mission centers. I want you to know we are partnering with God’s Spirit, leaders, pastors, priesthood, and congregations to accelerate Christ’s mission.

Because of all Section 164 has to say to the church, I can understand how these words of “accelerating mission” can easily be missed. It may even seem justified to skip paragraph eight because it seems directed to the Council of Twelve Apostles and Council of Presidents of Seventy. But if you read this paragraph closely enough, you might begin to recognize these words are for all of us.

You see, mission is not something only a defined group of leaders does. Mission is what the church does in partnership with Christ. And the church is all of us, together, living Christ’s mission.

The Council of Twelve invites you to join us as we prayerfully discover where the Holy Spirit is leading us to live out Christ’s Mission with people in our neighborhoods, communities, and nations.

And may we have the courage to let the Holy Spirit lead us into new places, with new ways to live the mission of Christ so others discover God’s divine peace.

Be ready to hold on, because our mission is picking up speed!