Two Important Questions

2 08 2011

by DAVID SCHAAL

Try this.

Every time your congregation is getting ready for an activity, program, service of worship, etc., raise the following question. How can we help this activity/program/service/etc. be aligned with one or more of the church’s five mission initiatives? Ask it in regard to everything the congregation does.

When President Veazey introduced the mission initiatives in April, he was not unveiling a new program, nor introducing an emphasis that would take the church in some new direction. Instead, the mission initiatives sharpen the church’s focus. They help the church give concentrated attention to five things God has been calling us to since the earliest days of our movement. This is important. With so many things competing for our time and energy, it is possible for us to be overwhelmed in a sea of “religious” activity, but never really get around to engaging in the mission Christ is calling us to.

In recent years, people have contacted World Church leaders, wondering what exactly the mission of Jesus Christ includes. The mission of Christ, as understood by Community of Christ, can be made real through five components:

  • Invite People to Christ—Christ’s mission of evangelism
  • Abolish Poverty, End Suffering—Christ’s mission of compassion
  • Pursue Peace on Earth—Christ’s mission of justice and peace
  • Develop Disciples to Serve—Equip individuals for Christ’s mission
  • Experience Congregations in Mission—Equip congregations for Christ’s mission

These are the five mission initiatives. These are the priorities around which the World Church budget is built. These are the priorities that should now shape planning in congregations, mission centers, and at International Headquarters. These are the priorities God has been calling the church to in past and recent sections of the Doctrine and Covenants.

So, when a congregational pot-luck is being planned, ask:  “How can we plan this so it aligns with the mission initiatives?” When children’s activities are being developed, ask: “How can this be an expression of the mission initiatives?”

Ask this question of everything. Doing so can accomplish a couple of things. First, it can help us align what we’re already doing with the mission initiatives, rather than assuming we must create new programs. Second, it can help us assess to what degree our activities and programs truly are inclined toward the mission of the church. If we have to “stretch” to justify some activity as relating to the mission initiatives, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves why we are doing it in the first place.

There is a second question of equal value that should be asked (although MUCH less frequently). That is: Are our activities and programs bearing measurable missional fruit? Are our invitational ministries really resulting in people inviting friends? Are we actually doing things to end hunger and suffering in our community, or is hunger and suffering in the world something we just talk about in Sunday school? Is discipleship and leadership development happening in ways that are notable? You get the idea.

This is a difficult question to answer. Many worthwhile ministries take time to develop and bear fruit. If we are not patient, then we can mistakenly stop some efforts in developmental stages. On the other hand, if we have been doing things the same way for years and cannot identify actual, measurable results (relative to the mission initiatives), then perhaps we should revisit what we’re doing.
Mission is challenging. It can be hard—though joyful—work. It can be complicated. Nevertheless, the first steps are often simple. They can be as simple as asking two questions.

Try it.

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Pursuing Mission

2 07 2011

by Stephen M. Veazey, president of the church

I have been heartened by many responses to my recent address, “The Mission Matters Most!” The address introduced into the church’s life five mission initiatives, arising from our best understanding of Jesus’ mission as presented in scripture.

The five mission initiatives are: Invite People to Christ; Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; Pursue Peace on Earth; Develop Disciples to Serve; and Experience Congregations in Mission.

I am especially encouraged by those who see the evident relationships between:

  • Jesus’ statement of mission in Luke 4:18–19.
  • The focus of the earliest Christian communities described in the Book of Acts.
  • The priorities of early Latter Day Saint communities that strove to be like Jesus and the church in Acts.
  • Community of Christ’s pursuit of Christ’s mission today.

These strong scriptural, historical, and theological connections clearly reveal divine intent and movement through time. They provide a solid foundation for our enthusiastic affirmation that “Christ’s mission is our mission!”

After Jesus stated his mission, he faithfully pursued it through every aspect of his life and ministry. He was the full embodiment of divine Spirit and good news in action. He was the vessel through which God’s love and mercy soothed the wounds of hurting people.

He not only spoke of justice and peace, he was God’s justice and peace living on Earth. And, he stayed true to his mission in the face of misunderstanding, cynicism, betrayal, suffering, and death. That is the power of clear, compelling, divinely inspired mission.

In light of Jesus’ example, how far is Community of Christ willing to go to be faithful to Christ’s mission? Are we willing to embrace the harder teachings of Jesus about how to live in just community as presented in the Sermon on the Mount? Are we willing to absorb the misunderstanding, fear, and hate of others who do not share Jesus’ vision of the worth of persons and the blessings of community? Are we willing to go to the cross for those condemned by cultural and political systems that ignore and then crush the most vulnerable?

Our experience tells us that while it may be disturbing to some, people are blessed whenever the church moves to become more like Jesus by forming congregational communities that radiate his love, compassion, and commitment to just relationships. We see and experience the meaning of God’s revelation in Christ in new and expanded ways as relationships are restored and healed. We become more aware of the Spirit’s presence that is especially associated with faithfulness to Christ’s mission on Earth.

If that is the case, then we need to regularly ask what additional steps we can take to align our congregational experiences with what matters most to Jesus. Some helpful questions for congregational reflection and discussion:

  • In what aspects of congregational ministry would Jesus see his priorities of sharing the good news, healing the brokenhearted, and bringing release to captives through ministries of justice and peacemaking?
  • If Jesus examined the congregational budget, how would he see his mission identified and supported? Would he agree with the priorities?
  • If Jesus interviewed congregational members, what would they say about their understanding of his mission and how they support it?
  • If Jesus went into the neighborhood around the congregation, what evidence would he find of the congregation pursuing evangelism, compassionate ministry, and justice and peacemaking?
  • If Jesus attended congregational worship and other activities, to what degree would he sense the congregation cares passionately about his mission in local and worldwide terms?
  • Based on what we know about what “matters most” to Jesus, would he be “at home” in the faith community?

All are important questions that drive to the heart of a more-fundamental one: How much does pursuing the whole mission of Jesus Christ actually matter in congregational life? I hope and pray it matters a lot!

Once, while engaged in a religious discussion, it was strongly suggested I was headed to the “theological place of eternal punishment.” After considering several retorts and quickly dismissing them as inappropriate, I finally responded.

“If I do go there, then I will be found there pursuing the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ!” That is, I will be sharing the hope of the gospel, offering ministries of compassion, and working for better living conditions for all! After a brief pause, the conversation took a different direction.

If being a disciple of Jesus in Community of Christ has taught me anything, it’s that discipleship is much more than agreeing to a list of “right” beliefs. It is about supporting and living to the best of my capacity the whole mission of Jesus Christ wherever I am and whoever I am with.

 





The Most!

2 06 2011

Dave Brockby David R. Brock
presiding evangelist

It’s not a hymn; more like a psalm-song, or psong (as gifted writer Joy Howard calls it). “The Most” by Lori McKenna is a psong for confession in worship.

Lyrics that are prayer because they are vulnerable ask honest, troubling questions in real-life language and end with glints of hope—colorful tiles in a mosaic of truth. There is not much God talk, but it is a start-right-where-you-are moment of confession that can end only in some derivation of “Please, God, lead my lost soul home!”

My life is a grocery store line
A “we’ll be just fine”
Don’t know how we survive, but we do

My life is an early spring snow
The last thread of hope
That I just keep hanging on to

My life is pieces of paper that I’ll get back to later
I’ll write you a story, how I ended up here
Why the little things make us and how long it takes us
To figure out what matters the most…

Someday, well, I’ll look back and wonder
Someday comes around a little quicker than they told you
Asking, “Did I do what I was supposed to in my life?”

How long will it take me to figure out what matters most? How long did it take you? How did you do it? Who was your guide? Will someone please tell me if I’m doing what I’m supposed to with my life?

Instead of giving our passion and energy to “what matters most” we may spend too much time asking, “What’s the matter?” which may become a judgmental, “What’s the matter with me?”

We’re either worrying about our own health and well-being or how we fail to measure up to our expectations…or someone else’s! And, if we get finished with “What’s the matter with me?” we are prone to focus on “What’s the matter with him (or her, or the huge indefinable them that is the other political party, denomination, faith community, nation, or cultural group)?”

I’ve heard Community of Christ congregations that spend a big piece of their pie chart of passion wondering, “What’s the matter with us?” “We’re so small, have such a tight budget, lack the quality of worship, preaching, teaching that is needed to grow, expand, serve!”

It’s a play on words in English, so it might not work in Urdu or Oriya, but what if every time we want to ask the “What’s the matter with ___?” question, we transformed it to “What matters most?”

What if we shifted our focus to God’s counsel as expressed in fresh ways in Section 164 of Doctrine and Covenants?

As President Steve Veazey stated in his April 10 address to the church, what matters most now is what mattered most from the beginning. It is what the prophet Isaiah, by the power of the Spirit, knew mattered most more than 2,500 years ago. It is what Jesus, by that same Spirit, knew mattered most some 2,000 years ago.

We know what matters most, at least in our best moments. If we have any lack of clarity about what that mission is, President Veazey’s sermon again makes it clear.

In August 1991 at the church in Springfield, Virginia, I stood with the congregation to sing the opening hymn for a prayer service at the in-town reunion. In the midst of that hymn, unbidden and unexpected, came upwelling Truth and indwelling Presence. And with them the clearest penetrating understanding: There is no greater joy than the joy of sharing the love of Jesus Christ. Twenty years later that truth holds and endures.

Makenna says,

My life is green grass through the snow
A sweet reckless hope
And baby, I know what matters the most

In the tongue spoken by disciples of Jesus in Community of Christ, we say, “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead!”





It’s Time to Make a Change

3 05 2011

 

by LINDA BOOTH, Council of Twelve Apostles

We were sitting across the table at a church potluck when a woman declared, “Things are just changing too fast in this ol’ world.”

From her expression, it was obvious she wasn’t pleased. She had been talking about her job and the rapid technological shifts that required her to learn new software programs.

While she hadn’t directly said it, I knew from the conversation that she also was concerned about changes in her congregation as a few members reached out to latchkey children who were very different from her own grandchildren.

First, these rowdy children had come to her congregation for after-school activities. Now, they were coming to church on Sunday mornings. One had offered a simple prayer that day during the worship service: “Dear Jesus, thanks for loving me, even when I’m not good.”

As I flew home that afternoon, I admitted she was right. An extreme makeover is occurring in Community of Christ. In theological terms, God is trying to transform us into living expressions of Jesus Christ. The process is both unsettling and exhilarating! But it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Our belief in continuing revelation and our call to be a prophetic people who purposefully try to discover God’s will naturally require change. But it’s not change for change’s sake, and it’s not to align with cultural norms. It’s change so we reflect the likeness of Jesus Christ. Christ’s mission must be our mission.

If we’re honest, most of us would confess that we’ve forgotten pieces of Christ’s mission: evangelism that invites and baptizes/confirms people, compassionate ministries that serve the poor and hungry while erasing conditions that lessen the worth of persons, and justice and peacemaking that restore Christ’s covenant of peace throughout the world.

Instead, we’re more comfortable serving in our church buildings than in sharing Christ’s covenant of peace in our neighborhoods and communities.

It’s time for us to remember and be a prophetic people characterized by uncommon devotion to the compassion and peace of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. The five mission initiatives clearly voiced by President Stephen M. Veazey and printed on pages 14 and 15 can change us, our congregations, and our communities if we generously support them through our daily living and sustainable giving to mission tithes. It takes both to make the radical change needed to fulfill our divine call and God’s vision for the church.

Each of us can make change possible on a scale larger than we’ve ever imagined as we become living expressions of Jesus Christ. The Power of 10, as shared on pages 24 and 25, also is needed. For example, if just 16,000 members in the USA give $10 more a week to support Christ’s mission, there will be $8.32 million more to launch and expand ministries throughout the world.

The rise of Zion the beautiful, the peaceful reign of God, is possible. Christ’s mission calls us and can’t wait. It’s time to make the change!





“Come and See”

5 04 2011

Steve Jonesby Steve Jones, presiding bishop

Are you a “see and come” person?

Or are you a “come and see” person?

The terms, used by William Willimon in the January edition of A Pulpit Resource, refer to life today. We live in a time when our culture is leading us—some would say demanding us— to live our lives as “see and come” persons.

If we want to know something, we simply Google it on our smartphone, iPad, or laptop. If that proves unsuccessful, we look it up on Wikipedia. If that still doesn’t inform us adequately, we go on Facebook and ask a friend, or we “tweet” someone.

We are becoming a people who need to know before we go.

And yet, everything about Christ’s birth, baptism, life, death, and resurrection calls us to live as “come and see” persons. The resurrection of Christ calls us—like Mary to the tomb, or like travelers on the road to the dinner table in Emmaus, or like disciples hunkered down in a dark room and fearful for their lives—to come and see our brother and savior raised from the tomb.

Our faith journey really can be understood only from the “inside out” as disciples invited to love and follow the one who loved us first.

I want us to experience the life-giving spirit of Christ’s resurrection daily because we are willing to “come and see.”

What does it mean to be a “come and see” disciple?

Be Vulnerable

Doctrine and Covenants 163:10a–b says: “God yearns to draw you close so that wounds may be healed, emptiness filled, hope strengthened…Be vulnerable to divine grace.”

We must be willing to come to one another with our wounds exposed, willing for others to see our brokenness.
As a family, we have experienced the pain of children struggling with depression and attempted suicide. But God said, “come and see,” and as we were vulnerable about our brokenness to those who loved us, we experienced Christ’s resurrection in our family.

Experience Mutuality

When we’re vulnerable to one another, the Holy Spirit can be present in these experiences of resurrection, and we can have a sense of oneness with the Divine.

The poet, David Adam, wrote:
God above us
God about us
God beneath us
God within us,
When we lose our grip, keep your hold on us.
When we stumble and fall, uplift and support us.
When our faith wavers, Dear Lord keep faith with us.
When our vision is dimmed, in love, Lord, look upon us.
In our darkest hour, Lord let your light surround us.
When far away we wander, you are never far from us.
God above us
God about us
God beneath us
God within us.

Peace Be with You

In the 19th chapter of John a very-frightened group of Christ’s disciples were hunkered down in a dimly lit room, fearful they were about to be hung from a cross. In that moment the resurrected Christ had every right to be both angry and disappointed, yet he comes to them in love. He enters the room and stills their fears by saying, “Peace be with you,” and the scripture goes on to say Christ, “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Christ’s resurrection is a daily opportunity to experience his peace in our lives and to be assured that God’s Holy Spirit goes with us, so that we, too, can invite people to “come and see” for he is risen.

A blessed Easter to each of you.





Faith Makes the Difference

3 03 2011

Becky SavageNursing was my ministry—the means for serving God. This career allowed ministry to individuals and families under extreme stress and during great joy. Here are a couple of illustrations.

Terry was 8 years old when he started dialysis (a procedure that cleans waste from the body). Rather than learning to care for Terry at home, his mother complained how his care would disrupt her lifestyle. Her fear focused on personal loss rather than on Terry and his worsened physical condition.

The stress intensified to fear. Panic overwhelmed them and interfered with their ability to learn. Terry suddenly died at home. The mother responded, “Now I can get my life back to normal.”

Kim was 6 months old when I met her and her young parents. She went home from a hospital to die because of failing kidneys. Despite sorrow and grief, the parents prayed for a miracle. When they heard of a place that could help Kim survive, their response was joy and gratitude. They joyfully shared, “God blesses us and Kim.”

Different behaviors emerge amid the unknown results and changes of illness and injury. Fear is a typical response. Fear often intensifies to panic. Panic blurs vision and clouds perspectives. When overwhelmed, coping skills dissolve into immobility and indecision. The stresses of physical, emotional, and spiritual changes blind and overwhelm. A person can see the new condition only by looking from different perspectives.

Others respond differently. Calm and assurance replace fear and panic. Concern emerges into a search for answers and planning. The realities of different physical, emotional, or spiritual needs are obvious and visible. Despite the stress of changed circumstances, hope overcomes fear, and vision overcomes despair.

What makes the difference? I believe faith and trust in God infuse individuals and families with the stamina to endure and adapt to changing circumstances.

Nursing and mission are similar ministries. Nurses build relationships with patients and families. Mission includes the ministry of building relationships. Faithful disciples build friendships of caring and acceptance. Caring relationships change lives, bringing joy, hope, love, and peace amid challenges and changes.

To keep healthy relationships, we need to connect to God’s peace, expressed through the life and ministries of Jesus Christ. Prayer, scripture reading, study, daily spiritual practices, and participation in congregational ministries strengthen us and our relationships. Faith and trust in God infuse and sustain our lives and our faith community.

When we or the church face change, God’s grace and generosity transform our human frailties, fears, and blindness. Jesus’ ministry of love and his embracing of all people become our ministries.

—Becky L. Savage

First Presidency





“Where We Are”

3 01 2011

According to navigation experts, an important step in charting a course is first to establish where you are. This is especially true in church life. So, as the new year begins, I thought it would be helpful to share my understanding of “where we are.”

The church approved Doctrine and Covenants 164 at the recent World Conference. Section 164 provides for receiving people into church membership through the sacrament of confirmation on the basis of their original Christian baptism. A couple months ago we released official baptism and confirmation policies. Every pastor should have received an orientation to the policies from mission center staff members.

Beginning this month, we are enthusiastically welcoming new members through the procedures in the recently released policies. It excites me to hear the testimonies of people led by the Holy Spirit to become church members through the provisions of Section 164. Their commitments to the vision and mission of the church will enrich our congregations.

The church also is exploring several sensitive questions about moral behavior and relationships. The focus in some nations is on human sexuality, sexual orientation, marriage, and ordination. In other nations, the focus is on the treatment of women and children.
 
By approving Section 164, the church consented to foundational moral principles regardless of specific issues. These principles are the worth and giftedness of all people, protection for the most vulnerable, Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness (Section 164:6a).

In addition, Section 164:6b says nothing within these principles “condones selfish, irresponsible, promiscuous, degrading, or abusive relationships.”

A key to resolving an array of questions is fully understanding the meaning and spiritual nature of these principles. However, understanding them is not enough. We must consistently apply them as we address particular policy questions.

The issues in some nations are about same-gender marriage and ordination of people of homosexual orientation. By approving Section 164, the church agreed on how it will achieve consent on these matters.

We recognize that pressing issues in some nations cannot be addressed in others because of starkly different cultural and legal circumstances. Therefore, we will look to church officers—particularly the Council of Twelve and the Presidency. They will develop processes of education, discussion, discernment, consent-building, and decision-making to resolve pressing policy issues so the “restoring work of the gospel can move forward in all of its potential” (Section 164:7c).
 
A vital step in some areas is convening national and multinational conferences for broader discussion and to determine support for various options. The outcomes will determine the direction of policies in those nations. Currently, we have proposals in various stages for conferences in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, and Canada.
 
In September the World Church Leadership Council and Standing High Council met to discuss the roles previous church statements on homosexuality (1982 and 2002) should play in current discussions and decision-making. Members shared several perspectives. These included the need to help the church better understand the historical contexts of the statements.
Participants encouraged the Presidency to give priority attention to using theological, ethical, and scriptural statements to guide the church on human sexuality. They stressed that emphasis should go to interpreting recent sections of Doctrine and Covenants, particularly Section 164.

The International Leaders Council (ILC), which met the following week, came to a similar conclusion. The ILC reviewed a draft Sexual Ethic statement. Much discussion occurred about its usefulness in different parts of the world.

The group urged leaders to develop theological, ethical, scriptural, and sacramental background statements to support the principles in the draft. Participants stressed the need to focus on helping the church understand recent sections of Doctrine and Covenants as they apply to sexual ethics. Then further refinement, with scriptural references, should occur before releasing the statement to the church.

The Presidency has heard the voices of various World Church leadership and advisory groups. We plan to give priority attention to developing theological and ethical commentary to support efforts for the church to understand more clearly the will of God about important questions.

That work already has begun.

On a final note, we are happy to report that church donations through World Ministries Mission Tithes have been above budget four consecutive months. Given the continued global economic recession, this is remarkable!

Soon we will launch several creative initiatives to continue to increase generous response through tithing and to expand the number of contributors. Increased resources to support our mission will bless the church at all levels.

Having shown “where we are,” at least on some major topics, let us now chart our course and continue our journey with God as our guide. Remember, the mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most!

—Stephen M. Veazey
World Church president