Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Friday, July 30, 2010

Summer Reading

Summer is a good time to read!  Though it has been difficult to find the time, I have been able to focus on the following books:

"If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die": How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor by Geoffrey Robinson.  I am reviewing this book for Missiology.  Not the most uplifting, to be sure, but insightful with respect to the ways societies can move toward sanctioning and carrying out mass violence.  

"If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die": How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor

Christianity & Contemporary Politics by Luke Bretherton of King's College.  After reading Bretherton's first book Hospitality as Holiness: Christian Witness amid Moral Diversity, I wanted to see what Bretherton would say in this volume.  Needless to say, I have not been disappointed.  I highly recommend it.  Bretherton needs to be read on this side of the Atlantic by as many people as possible.

Hospitality as HolinessChristianity and Contemporary Politics: The Conditions and Possibilites of Faithful Witness

Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community by Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker.  This book is part of the New Monastic Library Series.  Heath and Kisker open up a lively conversation with our Wesleyan heritage, missional church, and new monastic movements. 

Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community [New Monastic Library series] (New Monastic Library: Resources for Radical Discipleship)

Wesley and the People Called Methodists by Richard Heitzenrater.  It is always good to re-read the classics!

Wesley and the People Called Methodists

Beyond Maintenance to Mission: A Theology of the Congregation by Craig Nessan.  I am reviewing this book for Reviews in Religion & Theology.  Nessan takes a very practical approach to congregational life arguing that mission flows out of worship.  Worship is the identity-shaping practice that allows the church to move into God's mission in the world.

Beyond Maintenance to Mission: A Theology of the Congregation

Enjoy the summer! 

Andy Kinsey

Friday, July 23, 2010

True Freedom

Throughout July I have been preaching a sermon series and leading a Bible Study on Paul's Letter to the Galatians. It has been a helpful exercise to lead the congregation through this kind of biblical journey.

Below is what I wrote for our July Newsletter about the nature of Christian freedom, picking up on Paul's definition of freedom in Galatians.

As Americans we love to celebrate Independence Day. It is a time to affirm Jefferson's famous "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Despite the imperfections of our political system, we enjoy tremendous freedom. The American experience has been an "experiment," but it has also been a journey: a journey toward realizing the promise of freedom.

And yet, we are reminded as Christians that we must be careful not to define the freedoms we enjoy as simply "freedom to" or "freedom from," but to understand that the real test is how we will use our freedom to serve others. Paul's caution to the Galatians is worth noting: we are most free when we surrender to Christ, and when we use our freedom to benefit others (5:13). It is a paradox, to be sure, and one worthy examining: we must take care not to confuse liberty for license (5:19). Instead, we must understand that with freedom comes responsibility. To see freedom as something we can use without limits or boundaries can lead to our destruction. History is littered with the remains of such a notion. Without string, the kite flies away. The same with freedom: freedom can go off in all kinds of directions unless it is grounded, that is, unless it is grounded in Christ.

The political and personal freedoms we celebrate remind us that our freedom needs grounding. It needs to remember that there is a cost, and that the cost is very high, indeed, extremely high. It needs to remember that unless freedom is tied to service for others it remains empty and without promise, indeed, it is without Christ.

"For freedom Christ has set us free..."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Interruptions and Ministry

It was almost month ago, when I returned home from the Wesleyan Connexion Project, that I encountered the messiness and beauty of ministry. I had been away for three days, and I was looking toward making a transition as I prepared to leave the next day for Annual Conference. The only way I feel I can describe what happened is to give a minute by minute account of what we face in the ministry. As Dick Hamilton, a retired United Methodist pastor, explained to us in a round-table discussion, we "move in and out of so many situations so fast that we have no excuse to say that what we do as pastors is boring." There is wisdom in that statement.

The best way to describe what happened on that day is simply to break down the time frame of when I pulled up to the church and when I eventually made it home.

4:00 p.m. - I arrive back at Grace Church from the Wesleyan Connexion Project at the Univesity of Indianapolis. We had a productive time with our seminarians in training.

4:05 p.m. - Before I shut the door of my car, I am greeted by a member whose family life is chaotic. The look in his eyes tells me things are not good. We talk for over twenty minutes. Finally, we have prayer in the parking lot.

4:25 p.m. - Walking into the church I meet one of our Lay Leaders. We chat and greet one another.

4:35 p.m. - I walk into my office. There are two notes on my computer telling me I need to call persons about one of our Bible Studies.

4:40 p.m. - I check my email and find a couple notes I need to address.

4:45 p.m. - The Case Worker with our Good Samaritan Ministry walks into my Study and shares with me several concerns about persons who have come to Grace to receive assistance. We talk about the steps we need to take.

5:00 p.m. - I remember I need to visit a family that is moving to Kentucky. A young couple in the Army is being transferred to Fort Knox. I travel to the home several blocks away and have prayer with the family.

5:30 p.m. - I pull into the driveway. Peggy reminds me that we have an appointment at the Franklin United Methodist Community. We head out and make our way across town.

6:00 p.m. - We arrive at the Community and have dinner with one of the residents.

7:30 p.m. - We make our way back home.

And who says ministry is boring?

I think it was C. S. Lewis, and a few others I am sure, who talked about finding God amidst the interruptions of life. Paying attention to what the Spirit is saying at all times is a discipline of the first order. God speaks out of the whirlwind of activity.

I pray that those who walk in this vocation of ministry may see the beauty of God amidst the many demands and challenges and opportunities. Who knows, we may be entertaining angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2)!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reflections on Annual Conference: Asking the Right Questions

The article below appears in the next Together Paper of the New Indiana Conference.

Driving home from Annual Conference, I felt disconnected. I knew something wasn't right, but what was it? Were my expectations too high? Were my expectations different than the expectations of the planners? Was it the business of the church, the many motions and amendments on pensions and health care? Was it the question around why some churches tithe and others don't, or was it sitting in a huge auditorium wondering if this is what Wesley had in mind when Methodism began? Were we even asking the right questions?

To be sure, since the early days of Methodism, the church has undergone change, sometimes necessary, always messy. The denominations that now comprise The United Methodist Church have had many different forms of connection, from corporate to federalist models, to name two. Organizational styles have also varied depending on larger patterns of organization in the culture. Not always have Methodists "conferred" well together.

Perhaps this recognition made me realize the obvious: Regardless of organizational structures, we can never escape our history and need for God's grace. We can never forget we stand line with Christians who sought the Spirit's direction and found ways of offering Christ; such persons also faced challenges not unlike our own, yet discovered God's faithfulness in their midst. They were willing to ask hard questions and test the Spirit's movement.

Like all organizations we in the church can fall into the temptation of focusing solely on the human side of the equation; we can throw up our hands and say, "What's the point?" Or, we can become so critical we slip into cyncism and say, "Why bother"? And yet, deep within, we also know, "There is more"! Perhaps this is where we can learn from the early Methodists.

In June 1744 John Wesley and the societies in London and Bristol that had grown needed a way to confer about the workings of the Holy Spirit and the direction the Methodists needed to go. They needed a means of seeking God's grace amidst the demands of an expanding movement. In short, they needed ways of comforting and strengthening one another. Or, as Wesley himself asserted, they needed the wisdom of others to learn how to save "not only the souls of those who heard us but also our own."

In early Methodism a Conference was meant to seek the leading of the Spirit and to gather those whose spiritual insights Wesley knew he needed. In fact, as the early records indicate, a Conference was to be guided by three basic questions.

1. What to teach;
2. How to teach;
3. What to do; that is how to regulate our doctrine, discipline, and practice.

Within these questions other questions would also be addressed. The goal was on seeking clarity and coming to grips with the essentials of the mission. Confering with one another was intended to be a spiritual practice.

Maybe this was the disconnect I was feeling. Was it the yearning for grace amidst the "business" on the floor? Was it the recognition that a Conference in the Wesleyan tradition does not begin with a series of motions and "whereas" clauses, but with a series of questions: What are we teaching and how are we teaching it? How are we practicing our doctrine and holding one another accountable? How are we seeking the Holy Spirit's direction?

Perhaps Wesley's own concerns are still relevant: Unless we are connected to the power of the Spirit that began 2000 years ago in Jerusalem and swept the ends of the earth, we might as well cease to exit (Acts 1:8). The United Methodist Church only matters if it is part of God's redeeming mission in the world. To understand that mission, however, requires prayer and discernment, and true prayer and discernment requires an attentive community, a community willing to ask the right questions as it also seeks to move with the Spirit.

I don't know if others felt the way I did driving home from Conference. It is hard to gauge such a large gathering. And yet, I wonder what it would mean to have our Conference, congregations, and agencies shaped by the above three questions. After all, it may be, as it was for Wesley and the early Methodists that our attention to how we respond to these questions may not only concern the souls of those we seek to save, but our own as well.