Pick up your cross and I will lead you where you need to go.
If you are reading this article, then the Mayan calendar was wrong and the world did not end and Ron Hubbard is a richer man. If you bought one of his Atlas Survival Shelters, maybe we can have a party in it and see how it feels to be twenty feet underground. LOL! (For those of you unfamiliar with texting, ‘LOL’ means ‘laugh out loud’)
Also, if you are reading this article then Pastor Melba, Pastor Beth, Pastor John and Pastor Paul wish you a Happy and Grace-filled New Year!
2012 was an interesting year in the P.L.U.M. churches. We have seen grief, challenges, rejoicing, change and growth. 2013 should be a year of continuing change, rejoicing and growth for each and every person - in each and every congregation. As pastors, it is our responsibility to make you a tad uncomfortable to remain where you are in your relationship with God and therefore, allow for growth. None of us like feeling uncomfortable - do we? Why do we have to do any changes and why do we have to feel uncomfortable? I like my church the way it is!
If you have ever been involved with a one year old child, you are well aware of the child’s need to get up off all fours and to walk on their two legs. As the person helping and encouraging that child, you know that you stand them up and encourage them just to have them plop down on the floor and then giggle. You try again. You stand them up, get in front of them and encourage them to come to you. The child may take a tentative step or two before falling on their rumps. But you don’t stop - you want that child to walk. The child may complain and not want to stand again. The child thinks it’s much easier to continue to do what is familiar than it is to do a new thing. And, it’s much faster to crawl on all fours than it is to try to balance and pick up a foot to lay it down again a few inches in front of the other foot. Crawling is the way the child has always gotten around. The child might fall again and have to begin again to stand and walk. It’s too hard. They cry or they “crawl” away to get out of your reach. As the parent, you don’t let the child get away with not learning to walk. You encourage, you stand them up, you offer bribes, and finally the child walks! This change of “all fours” versus upright walking is not an easy one for the child to make. At first, the child will frequently revert back to crawling. But, in the end, the child walks! As the parent, you wouldn’t even think of keeping that child from walking! Your desire is to teach that child how to grow into the person you want them to become.
Our congregations can be centers of personal healing and spiritual growth, communities for activism and social change, centers of family life and nurture, institutions that offer an array of programs to meet varied human needs, or communities of worship.
Pastors and congregations make choices among the multitude of possible priorities before them. The pastoral role of teacher and theologian and the congregational one of a teaching and learning community, seems to me, the best of the choices. We are in the business of teaching and embodying a way of life, a particular way of being human in relationship to God. Both as religious leaders and as congregations, we teach. We model. We form and we inform.
“The great truths of Christian faith, our core convictions, are saving truths. They make a difference. They make a difference by forming humans who are humane and truthful. They make a difference by pointing the way when we have lost our way. They make a difference by shaping congregations and communities to become more vital. These saving truths create and sustain congregations. Those who seek and find such congregations discover a healthy community in which to grow, struggle, be changed, and be sustained. In the midst of the many forces that regularly distort and diminish life as God has created it to be, these saving truths create God’s intended community. Most of all, these truths save by bringing us into relationship with the true and living God.”
(Anthony B. Robinson - Pastor as Teacher, Congregation as Learning Community)
Not long ago, the pollster, George Gallup Jr., set out to determine what those who seek a church today most want from that experience. He noted three things in particular: sermons that are instructive and believable, opportunities to deepen one’s own spiritual life, and a church that helps people to have a better understanding of faith.
I wonder what would happen if after the sermon, the congregation didn’t respond, “What a nice sermon” but instead said, “I will go out and do something”.
As any gardener knows, trees whose roots are not planted in healthy soil and nurtured with water and occasional fertilizer will not long bear fruit. If we continue to go to the trees asking for a great harvest of fruit (service and activism, outreach and care) without tending the roots the result is predictable. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the pastor to cultivate and tend to the roots so the harvest can grow.
However, leadership isn’t just in the hands of the pastors. I love this quote from Bruce Larson, “These large birds, (cranes) who fly great distances across continents, have three remarkable qualities. First, they rotate leadership. No one bird stays out in front all the time. Second, they choose leaders who can handle turbulence. And then, all during the time one bird is leading, the rest are honking their affirmation. That’s not a bad model for the church. Certainly we need leaders who can handle turbulence and who are aware that leadership ought to be shared. But most of all, we need a church where we are all honking encouragement.”Whether we are toddlers uncomfortable with learning to go from our known mode of transportation of crawling to the scary walking upright on legs, or we are the tree that needs our roots tended to, or we are the cranes leading the flock; we know the story of God’s redeeming and relentless love and purpose. We know there is a connection between God’s story and our stories, because in reality they are not two different stories but one story. Let us tell the story with love. Tell it with confidence! Tell it with joy! Let us continue to grow in our relationship with God and one another! Amen!!
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773