Diocesan Reform by Steve Pankey

After six months of beating my head against a brick wall with our Bishop and Standing Committee regarding Communications in my Diocese, I’ve got the itch to take reform, restructure, and reawakening to our Diocesan Convention in February.  Below you will find the first draft of my resolution.  I offer it, not as an answer, but as a question, who else is doing this work?  Who can offer suggestions? Ideas? Models of ministry in Dioceses for the future of the Church?

WHEREAS, The 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, passed, unanimously in both houses, Resolution C095, stating emphatically that “This General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully:

  • Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • Teach, baptize, and nurture new believers
  • Respond to human need by loving service
  • Seek to transform unjust structures of society
  • Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”

AND WHEREAS, The 39th Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast adopted new statements of Vision, mission and Commitment based on those same 5 Marks of Mission including a vision that seeks to “share Christ crucified and God’s reconciling love through effective ministry, leadership, stewardship and communication.

THERFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that this, the 41st Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast commits, alongside The Episcopal Church, to a season of reform, restructure and reawakening

AND BE IT FURTHER RESPOLVED, that, in order to facilitate the work of the Spirit, this Convention urges the Bishop and the Standing Committee, as they look beyond the current 5 Year Plan, prayerfully and with considered Biblical, theological, ecclesiological, and historical study; engage to conform no longer to the old way of doing things, but rather let God transform us into a new creation in terms of structure, governance and administration.

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Bishop make a full report and accounting of this work to the 42nd Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast for ratification and enaction.

Beta Testers, by Susan Snook

It’s not really news to say that things have changed since the halcyon days of the 1960s, when eager young men flocked to seminaries, graduated to comfy curacies, went on to prestigious associate positions, and ended up ensconced as cardinal rectors.

The Diocese of Connecticut recently suspended its ordination process while it reconsidered ordination for a new time.  Now, it has released new guidelines for a “provisional” process.  Candidates will be “participant observers” or “beta testers.”  They should be “uniquely able to thrive in the midst of ambiguity and uncertainty, and … uniquely open to the creative possibilities of doing discernment and formation in new and uncharted ways.”

Here is how Connecticut sums up the contemporary church scene:

The church in general and the Episcopal Church in particular are facing great challenges as they seek to adapt to the realities of the 21st Century. Church attendance is no longer culturally mandatory. Competition on Sunday mornings is fierce. Denominational loyalty is increasingly a thing of the past. Christianity exists alongside a plethora of other faith traditions. Biblical literacy can no longer be presumed.

These and other realities have had a profound impact on the nature and shape of the priesthood. The old mid-20th Century bargain – that if one graduates from seminary and successfully navigates the ordination process, a lifetime of full-time parish ministry is virtually assured – no longer holds. Neither does a system in which newly-minted priests have the option of apprenticing under seasoned ones. Clergy positions are shrinking, in number and in scope, as financially-strapped parishes seek to stretch their resources. These trends are exacerbated in a diocese such as ours where every town has its own parish and many have more than one. At the same time, our parishes are becoming increasingly diverse, culturally as well as demographically. And we are discovering anew that “the church” does not exist for itself, but rather to do God’s work in the world.

 

As I read the diocese’s summary of conditions in the 21st century church, I am struck by a couple of things.  First, Connecticut’s assessment of our situation is true, there is no doubt.  I don’t think it would be helpful at all NOT to take a good hard look at where the church finds itself these days, and it certainly isn’t helpful to go on preparing 1962-style priests for the world of 2012.

But second, what I like about Connecticut’s assessment is not its harsh look at reality, but that it finds at least a few reasons for new hope – increased diversity and more outward focus on God’s work in the world.  These are good things.  Times are harder for the church now than in 1962, it is true.  But I think that’s good for the church.  Who wants to be a leader in a church where attendance is “culturally mandatory”?  Where people attend because they’ve always been Episcopalians, and you know, the Episcopal Church is where all the best people go?  Where the work of Christian education is already done for us by school and society?

I think today’s church is a much more exciting place to be a leader.  Most of the newcomers finding their way to my church these days are people who have been away from any church for a long, long time.  They have questions, they have doubts, they have hurts.  Yet they are spiritually hungry and they want to know where God is in their lives.  I love watching lives transformed by the power of the gospel, especially in our rich Episcopal tradition.

The whole premise of Acts 8 is that the church is not yet ready for hospice – we are not preparing for a long and graceful goodbye.  We are instead in a time when old ways are dying, but that the Holy Spirit is looking to scatter us out into uncharted territory, like the Spirit whisked Philip out into Samaria, the road to Gaza, and Azotus in Acts 8.  In going to new places and new people, the church will find new ways to proclaim the good news of Christ.

 

Once you were in darkness, but … by Nurya Love Parish

There is no doubt that, as Susan Brown Snook recently wrote, it is not restructuring that will save us, but reawakening.  Indeed, in Jim Collins’ book How the Mighty Fall (relevant reading for mainline clergy), he notes that restructuring initiatives are often part of the process of decline.

Reawakening means recognizing that even though we do need to restructure, our life in Christ depends on much more. It includes a certain level of holy indifference: If we live, we live to the Lord… if we die, we die to the Lord… so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8) It includes a willingness to discern what is true, and look the truth in the face. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.   (Ephesians 5:8-10)

As a member of the search team for our next bishop in the Diocese of Western Michigan, I’ve been studying the data about our diocese. When our profile is published early next month, our major findings will be shared with the world… including our next bishop, whomever he or she may be.

Our data includes both challenging and encouraging facts about our life together. On one hand, only about half of our churches can afford a full-time priest. Even our largest congregations are not the size that are generally considered “resource parishes” – large enough to have resources to share. On the other hand, despite the recent financial downturn, average giving to annual operating budgets of churches held steady across the diocese. Most of our congregations have at least six months of operating funds in savings.

Facts matter, because without facts we cannot make wise choices. It is by wise choices, “pleasing to the Lord,” we may thrive to minister for years to come. Facts serve us well when we see them in their proper place: as servants of our mission to make disciples of Christ and minister to the world in His name. We may not always like the facts before us, but as disciples of Christ we cannot fail to acknowledge them, recognizing that no fact – indeed, nothing at all – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This post is excerpted from Nurya Love Parish’s blog, Plainsong Farm.  Read the full post here.

The Rev. Nurya Love Parish is Associate Priest at St. Andrew’s, Grand Rapids and Communications liaison for the Diocese of Western Michigan Bishop Search Team.  She blogs for www.buildfaith.org, an online Christian education community, and at her own blog, www.plainsongfarm.com. She welcomes your thoughts in response to this article at nuryaloveparish at gmail.com.

The First Mark of Mission, by Susan Snook

If you had asked me after the 2009 General Convention what I thought of the church’s chances of surviving more than another 50 years, I would have sighed deeply and asked you to pray for a miracle.  If you had asked me the same question after the 2012 General Convention, I would have said that maybe, just maybe, a miracle is starting to occur.

The Omnibus Resolution on Restructuring was a truly hopeful development, passing both houses unanimously, to great rejoicing.  But if restructuring is only about creating a different framework to contain the same arguments, it’s not going to take us where we need to go.  What we need in the church is a reawakening.

At Convention, I saw movements beginning to spring up, often among younger clergy and lay people, eager to jump start evangelism and mission in our church.  The Acts 8 Moment was one; Episcopal Evangelism Network is a second.  But these are movements on the fringes – do we have a hope of bringing them to the center?

I think we do, for the most prosaic of reasons: the budget.  Unlike the disaster of the 2009 budget, the disaster of the 2012 budget led to … wait for it … new hope.  Each of the Five Marks of Mission received a pool of money to pay for new mission initiatives.

My special area of interest is the First Mark of Mission (on which all the others depend, according to the official statement on the Anglican Communion website):  To proclaim the good news of the kingdom.  This Mark could be interpreted in a number of ways, but it assuredly includes ministries of evangelism.  The budget allocated $2 million over three years to this Mark, which is intended to include:

  • The “Mission Enterprise Zones” of Resolution A073
  • Church Planting
  • Funding for the Latino/Hispanic Strategic Plan which was passed with overwhelming support in 2009

The budget left it to Executive Council to decide how the money was to be allocated.  At the invitation of Bishop Stacy Sauls, I attended a gathering last week of church leaders who were convened to advise Church Center management in creating a proposal to bring to the Executive Council meeting in October.  The meeting included:

  • Two members of Executive Council (Stephanie Cheney and me);
  • Three former or new members of Program, Budget, and Finance (Bishop Alan Scarfe, Frank Logue, and Victoria Heard)
  • Five members of Church Center staff (Bishop Stacy Sauls, Sam McDonald, Tom Brackett, Kirk Hadaway, and Anthony Guillen;
  • Five current or former church planters (Victoria Heard, Frank Logue, Stephanie Spellers, Lang Lowrey, and me – some of us fall into two categories);
  • A representative from the church planting office of the ELCA (Mary Frances).

The group was clear that it was Executive Council’s job to decide how to allocate the funds, and this group was simply there to advise management on a proposal to bring to Executive Council.

I don’t want to go into details about the proposal we came up with, partly because Executive Council might decide to go in a different direction, and partly because we left a few issues unresolved (to be addressed via email).  However, you can read some highlights of our gathering on my personal blog, here.

A small thing that was of some personal interest to me: I really enjoyed getting to know Bishop Alan Scarfe.  He told some inspiring stories of mission during his young-adult days in England and Romania.  He also said that he had never been in a room with church planters before, and he found it very inspiring.  What a revelation!  I guess we church planters are unusual creatures, at that.  But I wonder how it’s different to be in a room with us!

We spent some time “dreaming” about how to start a movement in the church.  One of the fears we share is that there just won’t be enough novel and exciting projects out there to fund, which have sufficient diocesan buy-in to provide matching funds.  We didn’t figure out this question – how to start a missional movement.  Acts 8 folks: what do you think?  How do we start the church dreaming?  How do we midwife a new missional movement in the church?  How do we respond to our Acts 8 Moment?

What can we learn from Eau Claire?…by Steve Pankey

According to ENS, the Diocese of Eau Claire announced four candidates for its sixth bishop today.  As I read the article, I was reminded of the struggles that Eau Claire and Fond du Lac faced in late 2011 as they discussed, and even voted on, the possibility of merging the two Dioceses.  As a firm believer that Diocesan structures will necessarily be a part of the work of the Task Force on Structure, I hope we will learn from 2011 and from the work beginning in the Church in Wales (see Episcopal Cafe).  But that’s not what I wanted to write about today.

Instead, I’d like to know what we can learn from the Diocese of Eau Claire as they stand today.  The four candidates announced this morning are vying to be the 20-hour a week bishop of a diocese with 21 congregations, 2,200 baptized members, and 15 active clergy.  Some will look at this with cynicism, noting that these four guys (they are all men, it is still Eau Claire, after all) are just in it for the purple shirt.  I don’t know these priests, personally, so I can’t say if that is a motivation or not, but based on the Diocesan Search Website, I’d say that if it is, they’ll be eliminated rather quickly.  Others, myself included, will look on the search process for the sixth bishop of Eau Claire and find hope for the future of The Episcopal Church.

What I’ve learned from Eau Clare is that they are not afraid of what the future holds.  They are not afraid to think outside the box.  They are not afraid to name their weaknesses.  They are not afraid.  In the eighth chapter of Acts, the early Church had every reason to be afraid, but they chose hope in the gospel over fear.

As we pray for our Church and her leadership.  As we dream about a new way to be.  I hope that one place we will look is to the margins, what some might call “the least” and see how they are living faithfully in the midst of difficult circumstances.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the Eau Claire Diocesan Profile and ask again, what can we learn from them?

Our Identity Narrative
The Diocese of Eau Claire is a faith community of twenty-one, interdependent, mostly small and rural congregations. We are experiencing a new sense of expectancy and commitment to model what it means to be a healthy and sustainable Diocese of the Episcopal Church.

We are a Diocese rich in faithful, committed doers who respect each other’s differences. We have a healthy sense of our catholic tradition. We are ready to invest this heritage in launching into an emerging, life-giving community of faith. We recognize our need for continuing formation and our need to continually discover new ways of offering ourselves in mission to the communities in which we live. We realize that this can only be done by yielding ourselves to the power of the Risen Christ.

Our Vision for the Next Bishop of Eau Claire
Our next bishop will inspire us to build up the unity that we have in Christ, so that the world and our local communities may see that we are one in Christ. This will be accomplished by building bridges between our congregations, other Christian and interfaith communities, and between the many and various other communities in which we live.

Our next bishop will help us grow in mission, and we will become more and more involved in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth in our broken world. Together, and by God’s grace and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we will help to bring to fulfillment the prophetic proclamation that we are to “bring good news to the poor… proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Our next bishop will energize us and give us the confidence that God intends for us to have so that we may become the best that we can be. We envision a structure that will help us to focus on seeing possibilities rather than focusing on only what is problematic.

Our next bishop will give to us the opportunity to become a community that knows the Joy of our Lord’s Love and most generous Grace. We envision that our joy will be infectious and bring hope to all who share in our common life.

The Long and Winding Road, by Victoria Logue

The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here
Leads me to your door

I have spent the past couple of weeks continuing to muse on the road theme. A multitude of songs came to mind, including the song by The Beatles above. It’s amazing how many love songs can easily be addressed to God, as well. No doubt, that is the reason why Bernard of Clairvaux made the same connection with the Song of Songs. But, the above song seemed more fitting to my thoughts as I see it as yet another version of the wilderness road. In other words, the road to God is never easy.

This year, instead of doing the daily lectionary readings, my husband, Frank, and I decided instead to read the Bible in a year: the entire Bible, not just the sections chosen for us. We are now well into Isaiah with its prevalent imagery of wilderness and paths, and, reflecting back on Biblical history from Genesis through Isaiah, I realized that keeping creation focused on the Almighty had been a full time job for God and his prophets.The number of Asherah poles, alone, that were raised and thrown down is staggering.

Humans are exceedingly difficult to keep focused. This was something of which Jesus was acutely aware when he began his teaching. Thus the Parable of the Sower: the majority of the seed dies in one way or another. Only a quarter of the seed sown falls on good soil.

So, are we really surprised that the number of people in the pews has fallen? Has anything really changed? Even post Constantine, it has been a continual battle to keep people focused on God. From the desert monks to Benedict of Nursia to Francis of Assisi to Martin Luther and so on and so forth, those who believe are constantly looking for a way to “rebuild” the church, to call people back to God.

And yet, we continually create churches that push people away from God. We create the impression that the most important things are the number of people filling the pews not to mention asking those who attend to give as much as possible of their money and time.

In the Christendom era, church became a duty, a respectable “social” club. Where did that leave actual conversion? When people were baptized in the early church, it was possible that this act alone could lead to their death in a persecuation by the Roman Empire. Baptism in that setting was a serious commitment, a life changing event. Where once people were drawn to Christianity because of how different its followers were, now we go to extremes to try to prove how mainstream we really are.

Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

We attempt to gloss over the harsher things Jesus said in order not to frighten people off. And while I believe in a loving and compassionate God, I also believe Jesus meant it when he said, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:

‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn–and I would heal them.’

So, the real questions are, if we want to partner with what God is doing in the world:

  • How do we open their eyes? Their ears?
  • How do we convince these distressed and distracted people that taking the long and winding road is really worth the effort?

The wild and windy night that the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears crying for the day
Why leave me standing here, let me know the way
Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried
Anyway you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried
And still they lead me back to the long and winding road

The Blood of the Martyrs… by Adam Trambley

Acts 8 has proven a fertile launching pad for blessed dreamings of where God may be leading the church.  If we look at the beginning of Acts 8, as much of the church is scattering, the Apostles stay in Jerusalem.  Stephen has just been stoned and more stonings are threatened.  Apparently, the Apostles are ready to be die for their faith in Jesus and, if we can trust tradition, all but one eventually did (and John seemed spared to write Revelation while in exile).

In thinking about church restructure and the role of bishops (and other church leaders), Acts 8 might be a very important text to consider.  Perhaps our bishops need to have the expectation that they will be martyred for their faith.

If Tertullian was correct, and “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” perhaps our harvest is so meager because we have planted so few seeds.  In some area of the world, Christianity is growing by huge numbers, and many of those churches are being led into eternal life by the witness of their martyred leaders.

Imagine what walk-abouts would be like for episcopal elections if people really expected that their next bishop might not survive the term, and not merely because of a sugar-induced coma after too many visitation receptions.  Instead of trying to figure out whether deanery-wide confirmations will be required or exactly how “inclusive” a new administration will be toward left-handed acolytes, a whole different set of questions might be asked of both sides.  Imagine a candidate asking a diocese, “Who are the people you are ministering to that you love so much that we would give our lives so that they might hear the good news of Jesus Christ?”   Or, “Who have you been praying and fasting for, and how much, that they would have their lives transformed by the Holy Spirit in preparation for the mission we will begin together?”  Imagine a diocese that would rather answer those questions than prepare a chamber-of-commerce-esque profile listing the area’s golf clubs and major league sports franchises.  Such a diocese would most certainly be growing, whoever they elected.

Our own difficulty in even conceiving of how a 21st century leader in the Episcopal Church could die for the faith is one of the most significant issues we face in re-imagining our church.  The fact that so few of our current leaders would seem particularly prepared for the few ways we might think someone could be martyred is even more troubling.  (By dying, I mean dying, not feeling badly that recalcitrant parishioners in a failing congregation where insufferably rude when told they had no one under 60 because they refused to welcome in, minister to, or pray and fast for visitors, new members, or their surrounding community.)    If the convention wisdom is right that says that churches get the preaching they deserve, then we need to look squarely in the mirror and think about where we are and where we want our leaders to take us.

I think many people want the kind of church where we really learn how to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel so we can find them. But we are scared out of our minds and don’t know how to do it.  However, the more we demand those kind of leaders in our prayers to God and our church councils with each other, the more we will begin to find them.  In such a Church, we will be less concerned with how things were for people way back when, and more concerned with how they need to be for those we are about to welcome to the household of God.  We will be less concerned with details of health care and pension funds (what do martyrs need with a pension fund?), and more concerned with the discernment of exactly where the lost are in our community.  And we will be less concerned with what we can build for our churches and more concerned with what we can give away for the sake of Jesus and the good news, including our very lives.

Mission from the Margins – by David Simmons

This last month, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) heard the first reading of a new document, “Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes,” which will be presented to next year’s WCC General Assembly. One of the most interesting parts of this document is its discussion of what they call “Mission from the Margins.” Here’s paragraph 38:

Mission from the margins seeks to counteract injustices in life, church, and mission. It seeks to be an alternative missional movement against the perception that mission can only be done by the powerful to the powerless, by the rich to the poor, or by the privileged to the marginalized. Such approaches can contribute to oppression and marginalization. Mission from the margins recognizes that being in the centre means having access to systems that lead to one’s rights, freedom and individuality being affirmed and respected; living in the margins means exclusion from justice and dignity. Living on the margins, however, can provide its own lessons. People on the margins have agency, and can often see what, from the centre, is out of view. People on the margins, living in vulnerable positions, often know what exclusionary forces are threatening their survival and can best discern the urgency of their struggles; people in positions of privilege have much to learn from the daily struggles of people living in marginal conditions.

and paragraph 41:

The dominant expressions of mission, in the past and today, have often been directed at people on the margins of societies. These have generally viewed those on the margins as recipients and not active agents of missionary activity. Mission expressed in this way has too often been complicit with oppressive and life-denying systems. It has generally aligned with the privileges of the centre and largely failed to challenge economic, social, cultural and political systems which have marginalized some peoples. Mission from the centre is motivated by an attitude of paternalism and a superiority complex. Historically, this has equated Christianity with Western culture and resulted in adverse consequences, including the denial of the full personhood of the victims of such marginalization.

Looking at the history of mission, it’s easy to see this at work. Mission was and is often conducted out of a kind of Noblesse Oblige, assuming that those to whom the mission is being sent are receiving gifts that we already possess. This is harmful to both the persons and cultures being “missionized” and those conducting the mission, because it sets up the kind of distinctions the Epistle of James has been railing against for the last couple of weeks in the lectionary. It results in pride and hypocrisy, even if done with the best of intentions.

Those missions that have borne the most fruit of the Spirit in the past few decades have been those that recognize that in correctly-ordered work, both the missionary and the missionized are equal in receipt of a new grace. When mission is at its best, it’s not a transferal of knowledge, or a gift from the “haves” to the “have-nots”, but a new outpouring of the Spirit on all involved. In examples ranging from Latin-American base communities to Emergent churches in North America, mission really happens when it is indigenous and adapted to the local context.

As we consider ways to renew and transform our church, our first step has to be to recognize that we have been complicit in the “mission from the centre” that the document critiques. The Episcopal Church has only recently emerged from being considered exclusively the church of the powerful. We love missionary bishops, and organizations, and societies. We tend to hyper-organize ourselves before stepping out into mission. This could be considered prudence, but also could be considered a lack of trust in the Spirit. The “Nimbleness” that some have advocated as part of reform will not come easy to us, as we tend to be ponderous and make decisions from the top-down.

In paragraph 38 of the WCC document, it is noted that “People on the margins have agency, and can often see what, from the centre, is out of view.” How do we insure that we include the voices from the margins in order to make them part of the mission, rather than just those whom mission is imposed on?

Can You Hear Me Now? by Susan Snook

“Can you hear me now?” was the theme of an advertising campaign a few years ago.  If I recall correctly, it was a campaign for a cell phone company, showing people standing on their heads, leaning out of windows, hopping on one foot, etc., trying to get better cell phone reception.

Cell phone service is a bit better these days, but I think we are hearing each other less and less.  The image of an aging movie star talking to an empty chair at a political convention is perhaps emblematic of the age we live in, no matter which political party you sympathize with.  You can talk all you want to an empty chair, but you never have to listen to anything it says in return.  In fact, if you want to, you can put your own words in its, umm, mouth, and have a conversation with yourself.  God forbid you should have a conversation with someone you disagree with.

The gospel lesson we had on Sunday, Sept. 9 (Mark 7:24-37) surely has to be on every preacher’s list of her/his least favorite gospels to preach on.  Yet surely, if we open our ears the way Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man, surely this gospel has something very important to say to our age of closed ears and closed hearts.

I’ve read various excuses for the way Jesus behaves in this passage – calling a poor, desperate woman seeking healing for her beloved daughter a “dog.”  And I’m not satisfied with any of them.  I don’t think he was justified in testing her – I don’t find that any more attractive than calling her names.  I don’t think he was conspiring with her, winking at her as he called her a dog, while he tested the disciples to see what they would do.  I don’t think he was calling her a cute little fluffy puppy.  I don’t think he was telling her just to wait a little while and her turn would come.

I think he meant what he said – he believed that his mission was only to the Jews.

But then she spoke, and he listened.  Jesus changed his mind.

And yes, lots of us have trouble with the idea that Jesus might have changed his mind.  We want him to be all-perfect and all-knowing, from the very beginning.  We want him to have sprung full-grown from the womb of his blessed mother, reciting the complete works of Shakespeare (which hadn’t been written yet, but that wouldn’t matter to the Son of God).

But Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, so what if he needed to go through life learning and discerning his mission, just like we do?  What if he relied on the same cues we rely on to learn what God is calling us to do?  What if he had to worship, and pray, and read the Bible, and spend time talking with the people of God, and work to listen to the surprising insights brought by other people, in order to understand his mission, bit by bit?

He would be like us.  Because that’s what we have to do.  We have to worship, and pray, and read the Bible, and spend time in Christian community, and work to listen to the surprising insights of the people around us, in order to understand the mission of our church.

Why are we restructuring the church?  Why are our attendance and finances in decline?  Why is everything around us changing, and why are we failing to change alongside it all?  Why are we in an Acts 8 Moment?

Maybe we haven’t been listening to the people around us.  Maybe we’ve been answering questions they haven’t been asking.  Maybe we’ve been fighting battles they’ve already settled.  Maybe they have been listening to the sheer deafening volume of noise coming from the church, and they have just gotten tired of our shouting.

So what if we tried listening for a change?  What if we went to our neighborhoods and the people we serve and asked them what problems and issues are on their hearts and minds?  What if we sat down with community leaders and asked them what are the biggest problems in our cities, and what could we do to serve the people in them?  What if we asked our non-Christian neighbor where she finds God, or spirituality, or ultimate meaning, and truly listened to what she had to say?  I believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, but evangelism begins by meeting people where they are.   What if we tried to listen and then discern what kind of emptiness God is calling the church to fill?

If Jesus listened to someone and changed the way he understood his mission, so can we.  Can we hear them now?