Monday, April 24, 2017

Higher Education and the Holy Spirit

As I prepare to enter the world of Christian higher education I'm faced with various responses from people.  Some are affirming.  Some are confused.  And some, prefer not to ask or talk about it.

13 years ago I informed the church that I was pastoring that I was heading back to seminary.  There were many reactions but I remember one in particular.  It was a conversation with a volunteer leader.  She couldn't understand why I was going back to school and in a nutshell here's what she said:

You don't need more schooling, you just need the Holy Spirit.

I think most people believe Christian higher education is a good thing.  But not all people.  Some think too much learning 'quenches' the Holy Spirit.  As though learning theology is helpful as long as it stops at some point.  That point is usually when it starts to interfere with "what the Bible says".

Here's an important note: those that devalue Christian higher education are usually the same ones that suggest their way of interpreting the Bible is not actually interpreting at all, they're just saying and doing "what the Bible says".  Devaluing education leads to a simple, rigid, theology.  Higher education is designed to help interpret what the Bible says.  It gives context and meaning to ancient texts and cultures so the Holy Spirit can open up and apply even the most obscure texts to lives today.  But that learning doesn't always fit nicely into the land of rigid theology.  In that place, people fear theological change.  Because 'new' theological positions are something to be feared and condemned rather than poked and questioned.

Here's what I think: The Holy Spirit works in and through Christian higher education.  Just like the Spirit works through people, nature, etc.  He uses education to form and shape learners into the image of Christ.  Education changes the way people think.  And when thinking changes so does living.  That's a good thing.  Romans 12:2 calls follows of Jesus to have their minds renewed.  To be trained to think differently.  To learn and practice the ways of Jesus.

I've been blessed to serve at HMC.  For an evangelical church it's quite a theologically diverse community and I'm privileged to have been shaped by so many from such different backgrounds and perspectives.  I'm looking forward to my continued journey from church leadership to the classroom and being shaped by the Holy Spirit at every step of the way.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Finding Freedom and Closure in Ritual

I'm taking responsibility for my actions.  And I'm finding freedom.  As I wind up my time as pastor of Hanover Missionary Church I'm learning to let go of things I wish I could change, but can't.  Easier said than done.

It's happening through ritual.  It may sound strange but I've started planning moments that link an action with reflection.  Here's an example: on Monday I set fire to some papers in our fire pit.  This may sound like a normal burning procedure but it wasn't.  Monday's fire was special.  It was a ritual.  The paper represented something.  And before I lit the match I listened to a reading about 'letting go'.  Then, I sat. And I reflected.  Quietly.  And as I lit the match and held the burning matchstick next to the paper until it caught.  I felt sad.  But I also felt loosened.  Looser.  Not a loser.  Freer.  And since that moment, the heart-attachment that those papers represented was severed.  I was set free from the burden of expectation that those papers held over me.

Ritual is why funerals are important.  Funerals are rituals that allow people to have one last moment with friends and family to celebrate the life and grieve the loss of their significant someone.  It's a way of taking control of our response to death--something we have no control over.  To participate in a ritual, such as a funeral or memorial, is to deliberately enter into a moment to reflect, grieve, and, ultimately, let go.  It's one of the first steps in the 'new county' of life without the one who has died.  And after the funeral is over, grief doesn't necessarily subside, but closure begins.

So, as I bring closure to my time at HMC I'm embracing ritual and finding freedom to move forward into the great unknown.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Tips for a church in transition - #3 Prepare for Change

In my last post I talked about conflict.  Conflict's best friend is change.  And change should be posted on the sign outside every church in transition.  Unfortunately, most churches bury conflict, avoid change and try to move through transition hastily, assuming the current trajectory is the 'best' one or the 'right' one.

The reason can be summed up in one word: identity.  We get attached to our identity and we don't want it to change.  The problem is that the church is a living organism and all living things change.  While the 'stuff' of what we're made of remains the same, our identity shifts with time.  

Let my show you what I mean.  When I was young I was part of a family where my identity was that of a younger brother and a son.  As I grew older and my siblings left home then my identity changed.  I was still a son that lived with my parents but my younger brotherliness faded into the background without sibling presence.

Later, I left home and met my wife.  We married and had kids; I became a husband and father.  I remained a son and a younger brother but those parts of my identity became less relevant as my ID as a hubby and dad increased.  

Imagine what might happen if I failed to live into my identity as a husband and dad and still wanted to live only or primarily as son and younger brother.  How would that affect my ability to be a good husband to my wife?  What might my children think?  

Churches have identities too.  And those identities change.  I've seen some churches celebrate their past without clinging to it.  Like the son that grows up and becomes a husband.  Those churches are able to embrace their history and let it go at the same time--in order to become something brand new.  However, I've also seen churches hold onto their past and get stuck.  Like a little brother who waits for his siblings to return and misses the opportunity to grow up and become something else.  Those churches become rigid, oppressive, and eventually close their doors.

An essential part of embracing a new identity is being able to find ways to celebrate the past without holding to it.  When that happens, the church is getting ready for change.  And, as stated earlier, when that change comes get ready for conflict!

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