Jan 1998 – Uncontrollable voices

In Rediscovering the Sacred, Phyllis Tickle reports that more and more people are now making the journey without guidance from church doctrines or clergy. Many clergy and some lay church members find dissenting voices scary. Some find political assertiveness in the church—efforts to influence the institutional church system—a bigger threat than members who pursue do-it-yourself spirituality. “Command and control” may no longer be as prevalent as it once was in business, but it still seems to prevail in the church.

Feb 1998 – Religious tourists or real Christians?

A bishop referred to me and other church members who aren’t in top-level church positions as “religious tourists.” That has some very negative implications! Doesn’t God call all of us to make the spiritual journey  together? How can any of us legitimately say that someone else isn’t entitled to make the trip or even to help choose the route?

Mar 1998 – Spiritual discernment in the church

In Discerning God’s Will Together, Danny Morris and Charles Olsen describe a process of discernment that could transform the church. Discernment processes have a long history in Christian tradition and have many benefits, but using such a process involves risk, takes time, and can threaten members’ turf.

Apr 1998 – Discernment—connecting faith claims with church life

In Scripture and Discernment, Luke Timothy Johnson says that if we want our actions to match our words, we will begin using a discernment process for our church decision-making. He admits that it’s messy compared to other methods, but he thinks the benefits are worth the messiness. What we lose by it is the illusion of having control.

May 1998 – A challenge—summarizing Christianity

Probably no two Christians would agree on exactly how to say what the essentials of Christianity are, but giving it a try is worth the effort.

June 1998 – Help for today’s churches, from John Wesley

Although John Wesley lived in a very different setting from ours, some of his methods would still be useful in today’s church.

July 1998 – Conference—Christian conversation

When John Wesley referred to “conference,” he meant Christian conversation surrounded by prayer. Conference was a serious Christian encounter aimed at finding God’s will and increasing participants’ spiritual maturity. That’s not always what today’s UMC Conferences—official decision-making bodies—are like.

Aug 1998 – Accentuating the positive

Trying to protect members’ feelings and comfort and to keep everything under control, church groups often try to keep the church’s shortcomings from being revealed. But that method can cause problems, and it’s unbiblical. Optimism can be valuable, but so can facing the negatives. In Becoming a Thinking Christian, John Cobb laments that some church leaders seem to want the church to die in superficial harmony rather than live in vigorous debate.

Sept 1998 – Dialogue, discussion, debate, discernment—dos or don’ts?

In The Fifth Discipline, organizational specialist Peter Senge points out that dialogue originally meant a free flow of meaning through a group. Dialogue is different from debate. In Claiming All Things for God, George McClain contrasts two ways in which churches can approach decision-making. One is to ask “What shall we do?” A better way is to ask “What is God’s yearning for us?” He also recommends taking time for silence during decision-making meetings.

Oct 1998 -By our love or by our clothing?

A UMC clergyman’s article about why he wears the “clerical collar” made me wonder what such practices say about our beliefs. What do they say about the difference between the clergy and the laity? What are Christians saying when they wear jewelry that features a cross? In Virtual Faith, Tom Beaudoin finds that some younger people use it to mock certain Christian practices. Talking about these practices in church could be helpful.

Nov 1998 – Birthdays—times for growing

The approach of a dreaded birthday makes me not only lament evidence of physical decline but also rethink what God may want from me in my remaining years. In The Crone, Barbara Walker gives the heartening reminder that in earlier societies, older women were seen as founts of wisdom, law, healing skills, and moral leadership. In Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris reminds us that being perfect in the biblical sense means becoming fully ourselves as God wants.

Dec 1998 – Searching for unity

Christians believe that God wants the church to be a peaceable community, as an example of what God wants for the world. But living peaceably in the church is often hard. Becoming aware of what threatens unity and what promotes it is important.