The Christian Church in the Southwest is offering a daily Lenten devotional. Starting on Ash Wednesday, February 14, and extending to Maundy Thursday, March 29, you can receive the devotional in your email inbox.
CCSW Lenten Devotional
A word from Andy...
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For many years my wife taught in the same elementary school where at least one of my children attended. Often, I had reasons to go into the school as a parent or as a spouse. The protocol for visiting the school was the same each time. I’d go in, show my license to the clerk working there, register my reason for being in the school, and pick up a visitor sticker. I was to wear the sticker while in the building. Sometimes, this process took more time than the actual visit would. Still, I did it every time.
Occasionally, the receptionist or attendance clerk would apologize to me for the bureaucracy. Surely there should have been some “frequent visitor” pass I received, but I saw the process differently. To me, the process sent a signal of respect to the educational staff at their school. I respected their efforts to keep children safe and cooperated with their protocols. It also sent a signal to the children themselves. One of the ways they learn to tell the difference between the people they can trust and the people they can’t trust is by watching whether people follow the rules they’re supposed to follow. That doesn’t mean that everyone who side-stepped the protocols was up to no good. And it doesn’t mean that everyone who abided by the protocols was always trustworthy, but it was an important sign.
I view Boundaries Training in the same light. Every five years, commissioned and ordained clergy are required to go through the Healthy Boundaries training. Taking this training sends some important signals.
If you have yet to take Healthy Boundaries training or you’re about to reach the five year mark since you last completed it, I encourage you to participate in one of the upcoming trainings. Here’s a list of the ones that have been scheduled. We will have more scheduled in the coming months.
CCSW Regional Minister
I am asking each congregation in the Christian Church in the Southwest to have a congregation-wide conversation around two questions:
Question 1--Tell us about the Jesus people encounter when they encounter your congregation?
Question 2--What does a person's life start to look like whenever people decide to follow Jesus within your congregation?
I'm quite serious in my request that every congregation have conversations about these questions. At the same time, I want to resist the urge to turn it into a program with branding, curriculum, and reports. People begin to assume there are "right" answers to the questions when you do all that. I'm less interested in the "right" answers and more interested in honest answers. I do hope that the conversations try to include everyone. I do hope that there are multiple chances to think about the questions--offer, revise, discern. I do hope congregations will find a way to share their answers with me. I also think that how congregations go about getting at those answers will be as different as the answers themselves.
I believe it's important that we think about how to answer the questions because we need to communicate our faith. The Good Confessions declares, "We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and profess him as Lord and Savior of the world." I treasure these words; however, we are called to minister within a context that doesn't really have a grasp of what the words Christ, Lord or Savior mean. We are called to introduce people to Jesus in new ways. Jesus is the same; we have changed. So, we need to be accessible with the stories we tell and the language we use.
I imagine that someone looks at the questions and asks--with the Apostle Paul--"Is Christ divided?" (1 Corinthians 1:13). There is only one Jesus. How can we talk about the Jesus that people encounter in our congregation as if the Jesus encountered at one congregation is different than the Jesus encountered at a church down the road and around the corner, in the next county or in another part of our region? I think the answer lies in the fact that each congregation portrays Jesus a little differently.
More than one observer has commented that American Christians tend to fall into at least two groups. There is the group of Christians who tend to stress the teaching and ministry of Jesus, but neglect the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. And there are those who stress the death-burial-resurrection of Jesus and all that they mean but may neglect the teaching ministry of Jesus. Certainly that’s not completely true of any congregation and does not include every congregation, but it’s true enough to show that from congregation to congregation, people will see a different Jesus—a different portrayal of Jesus. Christ is not divided, but our portrayal is incomplete. Christ is not divided, but we are works in progress.
We can celebrate the beauty of the way Jesus has emerged through the ministry and message of our congregation. We know that our congregations reflect Christ's Holy Spirit at work in us. We also know that no one congregation can adequately present all that Jesus is. We accept both the beauty and the incompleteness of the Christ we portray. Our incomplete portrait of Jesus is evidence that we need other congregations. Why do people need denominations? Why do denominations need the ecumenical church? For precisely this reason. Two congregations can help complete the incomplete portrait of Jesus found in one congregation. And two denominations can help complete the incomplete portrait of Jesus found in any one denomination. We have been given the gift of the Jesus we do portray and yet we reach for more. We admit the ways in which we fall short and constantly strive for what's next. And so, by describing the Jesus people encounter when they encounter our congregation, we celebrate the beauty of Jesus as revealed to us and through us and we have a way of assessing where we are and how we need to grow.
Two questions for congregations in the Christian Church in the Southwest (CCSW) to consider. Question 1 – Who is the Jesus people encounter when they encounter your congregation? What’s he like? What’s important to him?
Jesus’s life is complex and rich and full. He crossed boundaries. He fed the hungry. He taught about God’s work in the world. He healed. He called. He blessed. He died and rose again. He ascended. He lives and encounters us. Beyond the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, book after book has been written about Jesus. It would be easy for us to join the hymn-writer and say, “What more can be said than to you he has said?” Still, I would like to ask the question. I’m not suggesting an exhaustive answer but a reflective one. Who is the Jesus people encounter in you? When people come in contact with your congregation, what’s the Jesus they meet there like?
Question 2 – What does a person’s life start to look like whenever people decide to follow Jesus within your congregation?
I read a book in High School entitled, The Normal Christian Life. I don’t remember much about the content of the book. I remember the concept that it might be possible to describe what the “normal” Christian life might look like. Hopefully there’s a clear connection between the way you talk about Jesus and the way you invite people to follow Jesus. How your congregation describes Jesus and the stories you emphasize about him will shape the way people follow him.
Over the next year – or longer – I would like to ask congregations within the Southwest Region to have congregation-wide conversations around these two questions. I imagine that conversation will different from congregation to congregation. If it were me, I’d organize home meetings with small groups gathering together over food. People would covenant to pray together, listen to each other, express one thing but give each other permission to revise the next week. But, that’s just me. The last thing we need is a one-size fits all approach to congregations. I hope you’ll take time to drop me a line if you decide to engage this conversation. Let me know how it’s working for you – how you’re engaging the questions. Let me know what you come up with. I’d like to share your thoughts with the rest of the region and share the region’s thoughts with you.
Andy Mangum, MDiv, DMin
Christian Church in the Southwest