Pastor's Musings

July 2022

From the Age of Association to Authenticity

“Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around.
We need to understand the church as the effect of discipleship and not the cause.”
-Mike Breen and Steve Cockram

      Dwight Zscheile of Luther Seminary published an article, “From the Age of Association to Authenticity,” that clearly and compellingly charts the shift away from association to personal journey as the vehicle for meaning in life. “The vast majority of congregations in America were birthed in and designed for the Age of Association,” he writes. “They are sustained by voluntary membership, giving, and participation, all of which make less and less sense in the Age of Authenticity, especially to emerging generations… People feel less and less of a need to affiliate with an organization to find meaning, community, and purpose, that is understood instead as a highly personalized journey.”
      The question of how, in our ministry and in our preaching, to join travelers on this highly personalized journey – and to do so in a way that supports them, offer’s them good news, and reorients them to authentic community – is a high challenge of this moment. We live in a world that centers on and prizes the individual. The Bible by contrast assumes community. Think about that carefully for a moment. So often we read a scripture text or hear a prayer, and our reaction is to see how it fits our personal situation. This kind of personal devotional orientation is natural; it comes from a lifetime of being oriented to the individual. The Bible is not acquainted with that kind of world. The Bible assumes that the great arc of God’s intention, love, and grace was given, and acted out, in the community of God’s people. Jesus was not speaking to a series of individuals in the Sermon on the Mount; he spoke to the multitude. Jesus addressed several individuals during his ministry, but almost always in the context of the larger community.
        Moving into a new town and community, a pastor began a sermon series based on our call as disciples to reach out to the community around us. Again and again, the pastor emphasized that we can all make connections with the people we rub shoulders with in daily life. Using scripture passages on spiritual gifts like I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4, the pastor preach that all parts of the Body of Christ must use their God given talents to share the good news of salvation with the wider world.
        The church had wonderful people, including two brothers with intellectual disabilities, Looking into the pastors eyes, smiling, they spoke slowly. “Pastor…we…like…what…you…say.”
        “I’m happy to hear that. Thank you,” she responded. They spoke again, “Pastor… we…like…what…you…say,” while clinging to the pastor’s arm. The pastor was confused and unsure how to respond. Sad to say, the pastor faced a temptation to just avoid them. She started to prepare the congregation for reaching out to the community. Members were asked to join outreach teams that went out into the community to offer service. Others were asked to help with children’s ministries and worship. Still others were asked to help beautify the property and oversee the financial gifts that were taken in and distributed to various organizations.
        At the end of the series on spiritual gifts, the two brothers approached the pastor. Slowly they asked, “Pastor, you said all have a job. You didn’t give us an assignment. What do we do?”
        “Ummm. You don’t need to do anything,” she replied.
        “but you said all get a job.”
“The pastor thought, how can I put them to work when I don’t know what they are capable of. They might embarrass the church or perhaps bother visitors. Then she got an idea. “Why don’t you pray.”
        “Ok, we pray, ok, we pray.”
        They went home repeating, “We pray, we pray,” and they suddenly they stopped.
        “But who do we pray for?”
        Their father suggested, “Well, you pray for those from the community who don’t know Jesus.”
        “Oh, we pray for the community. But the community doesn’t know that we pray for them.” So one of the brothers suggested,
“I think the pastor means we pray with the community.”

        So the two brothers decided they would go directly to the community. Roughly 16,000 people lived in the town of 500 to 600 households. They knocked at the first door. “Our pastor said we should pray for you; what do you want us to pray for?”
        “Well, I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent this month.”
“Ok, Lord, please send money so that the rent can be paid.” Bye.”
A short simple prayer.
Next house: “The pastor said we should pray for you; what do you want us to pray for?”
        “My child is being bullied at school.”
        “Ok, Lord please stop the bullying this child is experiencing. Bye”
House by house they went, and after about one month they blanketed the whole town with prayer.
        “We prayed,” they told the pastor. “What do we do next?”
I had peace for a month, the pastor thought to herself. Another month of peace would be nice. “You need to pray more.”
“Oh, ok,” So they went home, thought about it and decided that she meant they needed to go back to the community. So they went again, street by street, to every house.
     “you know, the money I needed for my rent miraculously appeared!”
“Ok, Lord, than you for the money you sent. Bye.”
        Next house: “You know, my child has been able to make some friends who protect her from being bullied.”
        “Lord, thank you for protecting this child. Bye.”
        They circled the whole town again. “Pastor, they said, “we prayed more; what should we do next?”
        Just go; I am busy now. Keep praying; pray without ceasing.”
        “Ok.” By now they knew their duty. So, they just went back house by house. After another month, they had prayed with every household a third time.
        Now it was time to assess how the churches outreach ministries were doing. The members gathered together to tell their stories, but not many had invited someone to come to church with them. The two brothers brought 46 visitors, and 42 of them decided to commit their life to Jesus, get baptized, and share their new faith with their friends and family.
        When asked what made them come check out the church, most answered, “We can see Jesus’ love in this church. Our friends and families never visit us, let alone pray for us. You, on the other hand, you care. You sent somebody to come to us, listen to us, and pray for us – and not just once but consistently.”
            It was a lesson for the pastor and the entire congregation. As participants in God’s efforts to bless the world, the church has the awesome responsibility of preparing every single person who has experienced God’s amazing grace to be a conduit of that grace to people who are thirsty to experience it as well. Each person is to minister according to the gifts given to them by God. God can use literally anyone who is willing to work with Him in transforming lives and creation itself, so that all lives everywhere are ultimately blessed. This is the work which Jesus began in his own ministry and now invites us to participate in as well.

Your Fellow Pilgrim On the Journey,
Pastor Greg

  August 2022  
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