Placing a halo above their heads and having them grow tall enough to wear it
Dear friends in Jesus Christ:
Blessings be upon you in this Holy Season of Christmas and as you lean into a new calendar year. As you can see this issue of The Current helps to further stir the conversation about risk taking mission and service with a special eye toward young people. You will find the contents challenging and invigorating. Let the one “who has an ear hear”.
As I gave thought to the many young people in the church and those whose lives are touched by the ministry of the church I also tried to visualize the many young people who do not feel a connection to the ministry of the church as we know it and they experience it. The church for all of the good we are doing and the transforming difference we are making could do a lot better particularly among youth and young adults. Diminishing numbers of young people in the life of the church starves the church of much needed vitality, energy, creativity and angle of view. The church at its best has so much to offer to all and this includes youth and young adults. The church is in need and the church is needed. This thought path got my reflective engines going about why the church mattered to me when I was younger and why it still matters to me. These reflections might be suggestive of some key things to keep in mind going forward. So I want to testify.
I am convinced that I am called to follow Jesus, be a Christian and be in Christian community through the church because I have seen it done by real people, in real time, living real lives that know joy and sorrow, hope and fear, conviction and doubt and all the rest. Not the least of these real people were/are my parents. The people who showed me the Risen Christ were not perfect people. But they were people whose lives had been claimed by the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and these real people sought diligently to bring together walk and talk, creed and deed. For some in whom I observed the light of Jesus Christ as a young person I know to a certainty that to this very day they surrender daily to God’s grace and mercy seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
They choose daily to follow the Risen Christ into the world and serve him by serving their neighbors. They didn’t stay on the path because it was easy. But they did not demure in staying the course because it was challenging. G. K Chesterton has wisely observed “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Thanks be to God for the authentic disciples, warts and all, who persist in discipleship. Can we do less?
I am also convinced that I am a follower of Jesus and a leader because family, friends, the church invested in me. They nurtured and encouraged my intellectual and spiritual curiosity. They responded to my questions patiently and gently and received my thoughts, ideas and assertions with seriousness. They were generous toward my naiveté and my missteps on and off the path. They invested time in me with no expectation of a return on investment for themselves. They only hoped I would “pay it forward” and be a blessing to the church and the world. They prayed that I would join God’s movement of love, justice, peace seen with unhindered clarity in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They placed a “halo above my head” and challenged me to “grow tall enough wear it.” And they believed I could by God’s grace do it. They gave me time. They offered encouragement. They were gently wise. They are still believing that God is at work in my life. Who are we encouraging and believing in? who are we helping to “grow to the full measure of the stature of Jesus Christ”?
A future church that is more diverse and more young will take courage and involve risk. But think about it every time you have stepped into a new opportunity someone, some institution, some community was taking a risk. Even when all the signs and even data suggested you could do the job, perform the task or play the role there was still a risk that it might night pan out. If we dream a different future for the church we will have to take some risks. Some old assumptions and practices will have to be laid to the side if not altogether jettisoned. Maintaining the status quo will continue to give us the same church. If that works for you stick with it. If you want something different we will have to do things differently. This is especially true when it comes to leadership. The tried and true pecking orders will yield reliable outcomes. But are those the outcomes we want? The circle of leadership and vigorous participation in being the church must be widened. We will need to risk trusting others to do what we now functionally believe only we (insiders) can do. How much heart do you really have to risk becoming a new church?
Perhaps risking in the right directions is among the most Godly thing we can do. We would do well to remember that the God we serve and worship is hardly unfamiliar with risk taking mission and service. What do you think Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter and death and resurrection are all about?
A missionary God has put it all on the line for us. Will we do any less than risk it all on God’s purposes? I remain,
Yours in risk taking mission and service,
Gregory Vaughn Palmer
Gregory Vaughn Palmer
By: Bishop Gregory V. Palmer On 12/12/2011