It’s Time to Switch

 

I have been investing time recently reflecting on my faith journey over the decades.  I may be wrong, but I don’t believe the experiences of my faith journey are unique. Based on my experiences, we as church leaders, need to shift our emphasis away from personal salvation.  The shift needs to be toward Kingdom creation.  Let me explain.

Our focus on personal salvation has created selfish and arrogant Christians.   Many Christians’ profession of faith was fear induced.  People were threatened with hell if they didn’t make a profession of faith.  My faith journey began not out of love for God, but out of a sense of self-preservation – avoiding hell. This beginning put me on a trajectory to do what was necessary to make sure I got to heaven when I died.  My focus became following the rules not forming a relationship with God.

My salvation was contingent on me giving accent to certain doctrines and beliefs and following some arbitrary moral standards. Mine was a religion of rules not a faith in a living God. I went to worship because I was supposed to, I read the Bible because I was supposed to, I prayed because I was supposed to, I gave because I was supposed to, I served because I was supposed to, and I tried to not do all the thing I wasn’t supposed to.  I followed the rules so I could avoid hell.  Everything connected to the church was about me and what I needed to do to secure my salvation.  If my journey was all about me, then everything at the church should be about me.  They should sing the songs I like, the preacher should preach the sermons I like, they should teach the classes I like, they should paint the walls the color I like. Also, if I’m faithfully following all the rules, then God should answer my prayers.   The prayers that are often prayed treat God more like Santa Claus, only with a higher expectation of a positive result. My attention was not on the present, but on what would happen when I die.

The emphasis on personal salvation also makes us arrogant.  I’m “saved,” that must mean I’m following all the rules. If you aren’t “saved” that means I’ve got something you don’t have and something you need, which makes me superior. The feelings of superiority applied to non-believers, but it especially applied to people of other faiths.

Our focus should be to join with God to create the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven.  We do pray that prayer regularly.  So, what does the Kingdom of God look like?  It is a place of joy, peace, hope, love, freedom, there is no violence, no oppression, no judgement, no discrimination.  If we will engage our communities and join with God in creating the Kingdom of God here on earth, we will have people come to faith in Christ.  They will be coming for the right reasons and not because they are afraid of going to hell.  They will come with an attitude of generosity and service rather than selfishness.  The end result is much the same, people come to faith in Christ, but we will have helped to create the Kingdom of God here on earth.

It is much harder work joining with God to create the Kingdom of God here on earth, then it is to preach a sermon or have a conversation and convince someone they’re going to hell if they don’t follow the rules.  I can follow all the rules and give accent to all the right doctrines and beliefs and still not have a relationship with God.  It time we switched our focus.

What a Crazy World!

“What a crazy world we live in,” is a frequently heard quote or something similar.  There are any number of things that make our world crazy these days: the endless pressure to succeed, demands from every sector of our lives, the inability to have civil conversations about difficult topics, the polarization of our society, and the list goes on.  Clergy are not immune to the craziness of our world.

As leaders we are trying to figure out how to do ministry in this crazy world.  Our world has changed so much, it is nothing like it was just a few short years ago.  Clergy have been trained do ministry in a world that no longer exist. They read books, go to conferences, and attend workshops on leadership as they desperately try to figure out how to lead in this new world.  Most don’t know what to do, so they simply do what they know how to do believing if they just work harder they will be a success.  Clergy are exhausted as they face the adaptive challenges of our day.  They are leaving the ministry at a rapid rate and most of those who aren’t leaving are thinking about leaving or how to retire early.

The crazy world is affecting clergy health. The insurance company tells us the most prescribed medications for clergy are for hyper-tension, anxiety/depression, and gastrointestinal issues.  These health issues are caused by and if not caused by at least intensified by stress.  The Church and the world need healthy clergy.  Most can take a pill and keep their health under control.

My fear is that clergy are neglecting their spiritual health more than their physical health and there is not a pill they can take for their spiritual health.  Even though they are preaching, teaching, and praying their spiritual health is suffering and they are running on empty. The problem for clergy is when they are struggling spiritually they are afraid to admit it.  They are the ones who are to be leading their congregations in spiritual matters.  How do they admit they are struggling?  This scenario adds to the stress they are already experiencing.

Many time clergy feel out of control and this is particularly true this time of year for United Methodist clergy as appointments are being made.  They often feel empty and with nothing else to give as they experience the feeling of always giving and never receiving. They are moving so fast and are so distracted, I’m afraid they frequently do not recognize God’s very presence with them.

Before they can lead effectively they must be spiritually healthy. Let me encourage everyone to create space for God in your life.  I know that sounds ridiculous to say to clergy, but they get so busy they fill their days with everything but God.  Not only do you need to create space, but in that space create environments for experiencing God’s presence.  The potential environments come in many different forms.  Some are in a quiet room in the house, some are on a hiking trail in the woods, anything you can do on a daily basis. You need to pray, but pray with less words and more silence so as to hear God.