Jan 1993- Power in the church
We often think of power as bad, but God evidently wants us to have the power we need for doing what God calls us to do. But this “power to” is different from exerting power over other people. Power in organizations has several forms, each of which can be used for good or harm, as “power over” or “power to.” In Power Analysis of a Congregation, Roy Oswald helps us see where power is and how it works, in the church and other organizations.
Feb 1993 – Kindred spirits
God often communicates with us and ministers to our needs through other people, especially the kindred spirits who share our main concerns and communicate in ways we understand most clearly. But to find and be found by kindred spirits, we have to be honest and open in revealing our real beliefs and feelings. We also have to be careful and kind in handling what other people reveal to us. Marilyn Ferguson calls kindred spirits “conspirators”—” those who breathe together.” Others call them “resonators.” In A Testament of Freedom, Thomas Kelly calls them people whom we know to the depths, from within. Churches need to be places where we can find and connect with them.
Mar 1993 – Tradition—it can lead us to God or away from God
Church traditions are like the gift wraps I enjoy constructing and saving. They can be beautiful, and they bring back fond memories, but they don’t stay usable forever. Traditions are like parents, too—sometimes valuable guides but sometimes obstacles to making changes we need to make. Tradition-breakers—Jesus, Luther, Wesley—started our church traditions, yet we often want to cling to their ways instead of being equally innovative in finding today’s ways to reach the sacred.
Apr 1993 – Step into new life
God continually leads us to new steps we need to take. Unfortunately, friends and family don’t always help us take the needed steps, because if we change, it changes the setting in which our friends and family live, and they may not find the new setting as comfortable as their present setting. Steps that seem tiny to others sometimes seem huge and are crucial for the person who needs to change.
May 1993 – Insiders and outsiders in the church
A church building and program that seem comfortable and welcoming to insiders can seem forbidding to outsiders, so it’s important for insiders to try to look with outsiders’ eyes. A church staff or committee can overlook needed information and ideas if all its members think alike and socialize together. A Sunday School class can turn off potential new members if its members are so comfortable conversing with each other that they ignore visitors. Laity feel like outsiders when clergy talk only among themselves or manipulate the system in ways that only they know.
June 1993 – God creates us with differences
In the church it’s essential to recognize that people have different God-given abilities, interests, and personalities, and to welcome all of them actively. Discovering the Myers-Briggs system of classifying personality types was a life-saver for me, because my way of approaching life is shared only by a tiny minority of the U.S. population. This Connections describes this system of describing personality types and suggests books for learning more about it.
July 1993 – A pebble can be powerful when used for God
God can make our tiniest abilities and seemingly feeblest tools powerful when we make them available for God’s use. In the Bible, the story of David and Goliath and the story of Esther, among others, show this happening. These stories give us valuable clues for discovering our own assets and making them effective for God’s purposes. In Turning Points, Max Christensen tells about people responding to “divine taps on the shoulder” in today’s world.
Aug 1993 – Lay Christians at work
God calls each of us to ministry. It’s not just the responsibility of clergy. And ministry isn’t done only through the institutional church. The places where people live, work, and go for social and leisure activities are the places where people are most likely to be reached with the gospel, and lay people, not clergy, have constant access to these places. In The Divine Milieu, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin assures us that being Christian does not add a burden of observances and obligations to our lives but rather gives meaning, beauty, and a new lightness to what we are already doing. In The Monday Connection, William Diehl laments that few churchgoers find spirituality in daily life and most churches do little to help them find it. He found that small support groups sharing the concerns of daily life could help. In How Can I Be Over the Hill When I Haven’t Seen the Top Yet? Patricia Wilson reminds us that being the church doesn’t just happen once a week in the church sanctuary, yet meeting and sharing with fellow Christians is essential.
Sept 1993 – Prayer in a busy world
In the church we too often give the false impression that being a good Christian is possible only for people who aren’t very involved in the real world. We portray silence, solitude, and plenty of time as essential for prayer. But as a Sunday School teacher of mine used to assure his students, praying on the run may be more important. In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen reminds us that we don’t have to be like the monks who retreated to cells in the desert to pray. Rather, silence is a quality of the heart, a portable cell that we can carry with us wherever we go. This Connections also includes suggestions from authors Ron DelBene, Parker Palmer, and Chester Michael and Marie Norissey, who describe prayer methods that fit different personalities and settings.
Oct 1993 – What century is this? Christians don’t seem to know
We use computers, not abacuses or scrolls. We don’t communicate with smoke signals. But we still quote scripture and express our beliefs in words that are relics from the past. In worship services we pray “Our Father who art in heaven,” and we say “sitteth at the right hand of God.” This must make outsiders wonder “What century do these people think they’re in?” Our use of outdated words in church gives messages about God and human beings that deny what we otherwise claim to believe. Also, we still use some organizational methods that were designed for 18th-century rural America. Through these practices, we’re giving the wrong messages to today’s people.
Nov 1993 – Our stories connect us, but telling them is scary
Sharing our personal faith stories with each other can be scary at first, but it helps us connect with other people and with God. I’m sharing some of my story here. In Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I am, John Powell reminds us that unless our minds and hearts are hopelessly barricaded, we’re different people today from those we were yesterday, so in order to know each other, we need to keep sharing our stories. In Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner points out that hearing others’ stories helps us recognize important features of our own. And Joanna Field, in A Life of One’s Own, observes that if we can’t bear to let others know our stories, we probably can’t bear to look at them ourselves in the ways we need to look.
Dec 1993 – The church and the world
Christmas is an especially hard time to say no to customs we need to say no to, like excessive spending and excessive eating. In The Once and Future Church, Loren Mead discusses how the world’s attitude toward the church has changed over the centuries, and what this change means for the church. In Freeing the Faith, Hugh Dawes challenges us to see the world as Jesus apparently did.