Saturday, August 14, 2010

Expanding the Big Tent (Further Thoughts)

In my last post, I wrote briefly about what Big Tent Christianity means to me. I'd like to expand a little bit on that post:

Big Tent Christianity is Kingdom, not kingdom, focused. It's not about denominations or territories or any of the other minor, petty differences that have kept churches from being the Church. It's about embracing the fact that the God we serve, the Christ we follow, the Spirit we seek, is bigger than any one of us, and not something we can cram into some simple package. None of us have a monopoly on Truth.

For example... I was raised in Baptist churches. I currently work at a United Methodist church, my wife is a UM pastor. I went to a UM seminary. So, I like to refer to my spiritual heritage as Methobaptist or Wesleyan Baptist. One of the primary threads of Baptist theology is the belief in believer's baptism, that is, baptism by choice of the person being baptized. They make the decision as to when/if they want to be baptized, whereas the UMC has long practiced infant baptism. Historically, this conflict over the theology of baptism has been something that has caused some drama/beef/etc. Big Tent Christianity embraces both approaches, acknowledging that each one is theologically sound and has merit. It doesn't just push ignore differences, but rather realizes that each position is one that is tied in sound theological thinking and application. Believer's baptism acknowledges our ability to choose and enables the believer to actually remember their baptism, which they can then reflect upon and draw strength from in trying times. Infant baptism rightfully acknowledges that God is active and present in our lives before we ever even realize it (prevenient grace). There's room under the big tent for both approaches, and in interacting, Baptists and Methodists find themselves strengthened and blessed by the foundation behind both approaches. We learn and grow from each other, and the fellowship created is a gift of God.

Now, my hopes and dreams for the future of the Church...

Well, they're big. I know that much. I see a Church that spends little time squabbling over petty doctrinal disputes and more time practicing the incarnation of Christ, being the hands and feet of God in the world. We will be vested in our communities, a voice for the voiceless and sharing hope with the hopeless. We stop chasing the next fad or trend and instead practice the art of pointing to Christ. Instead of trying to be cool, we try to be Christ. If we really want to make any impact in this world, then we need to stop investing all our time in fitting in, and instead spend our time reaching out. Despite the protestations of some talking heads and supposed figureheads of Christianity, the concept of social justice is inherently tied to the message of Jesus. The church, when it is being the Church, is dedicated to sharing the love of Jesus with those around her, and that takes many, many forms. It's feeding someone physically and pointing to the need to be fed spiritually. It is helping the poor and pointing them toward the richness of Christ. It is breaking the bonds of oppression and pointing those newly freed (and those doing the oppressing) toward the freedom found in Jesus Christ.

I'm prone to dreaming big. The way things are are NOT the way they have to be. If there is no hope for change, then there is no hope in Christ. The very message of Jesus Christ indicates that we can be changed and we can take part in the changing. We can't do it on our own, but we don't have to. We have an advocate, and we have each other. So if we're talking about our hopes and dreams, then we cheat ourselves when we don't dream big.


Big Tent Christianity - Part of Transforming Theology Synchroblog

I'm taking part in a massive blogging effort as part of the Transforming Theology project, where numerous bloggers post about the same subject. The stated purpose of this project was to take a look at the concept of "Big Tent Christianity." We were asked to answer the question "What does Big Tent Christianity mean to you?"

For my readers (all 2 of you) out there that didn't go to seminary or don't care much about the Church, you might want to skip this post. But in case you don't (and because I don't think I'm smart or well-versed enough to do otherwise), I'll try to write this post as simply as possible without using the handful of $5 theological terms I know.

In my mind the concept of Big Tent Christianity is simply this- Kingdom over kingdom. For far too long (or rather too often) too many churches (and even the Church?) have been focused on their own little kingdoms with a lowercase "k." Concerned with increasing membership and tithes, we've focused on getting people in the doors. Butts in pews. In many cases, we became very adept at this process. We streamlined ushering people into our churches, but then failed to help usher the Kingdom into their lives and our own lives.

We missed the bigger picture. The Kingdom with a capital "K," that being the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven referred to so often in scripture. A Kingdom marked by peace, compassion, love. A Kingdom drenched in resurrection. A Kingdom that isn't marred by petty squabbles over who sits in what pew or what church gets the most people to darken their doors, but rather a Kingdom that doesn't rest when it sees injustice or pain. A Kingdom that reaches out to the poor, the outcast, the marginalized. A Kingdom that isn't about deciding who is on the outside, but rather one that opens its doors and invests itself into into the lives of all it touches.

The Kingdom of God. Right here. Among us. Within us. For some reason I fail to grasp, God lets us take part in creating this Kingdom. We are active participants in God's continuing creation.We all get to take part in this Kingdom. We sit at court with an entirely different type of King than anything the world has ever seen.

The Church needs to move beyond its short-sighted view of kingdom and see the bigger picture. To see the Kingdom in all its wondrously weird beauty. To see it right here, among us.

PS: I'll try to write more tomorrow going a little more in-depth and answering (or rather sharing my thoughts on) some of the other questions they asked us to examine, like what our hopes and dreams are for the Church and what it looks like in our context. I wanted to get this in ASAP because, well, it was due by 8/13. I'm late to the party, but I'm here now.

Monday, May 10, 2010

So... I'm contemplating (lightly, at the moment) UMC ordination

Yeah... not to betray my Baptist roots, but I am considering the possibility of going through the UMC ordination process. For those of you who don't know, it's a long (like 7-8 years minimum) ordeal. Assuming I get through, and assuming the UM system doesn't radically change in that time (which it might), it would mean a 99% guaranteed career. It would also mean that if I go down the elder track, I could be placed anywhere at any kind of church in a variety of positions: solo pastor, associate pastor, etc. I'm not sure I want that. Being the head pastor of a church is not my thing. I'd rather work with youth, college and/or young adults. The other option is the deacon track, but I'd have to find my own jobs (which is ultimately no different than now, and would prevent me from doing some of the things only elders can do), but it might give me the option to do things like college or youth ministry without the worry of where I would be placed.

Aside from the opening up of job prospects (I'd LOVE to be a college chaplain or campus minister, but it seems those jobs require ordination from a denomination more organized than my current Baptist ordination. I'd also enjoy working on the conference level to shape the youth/young adults branch of ministry), there are the other benefits- housing, pension, etc. I hate to sound so mercenary, but that's part of the deal, and a sizable part.

So right now, I'm weighing options and trying to discern what the right thing to do actually is. The process is LONG, so it wouldn't really impact my current job (don't worry, anyone from Mount Pleasant who reads this- it wouldn't be finished for many years). There's a great deal of paperwork, testing, meetings and writing that I would have to do. And I still have to determine which track to pursue, if any.

On an ideological level, I'm trying to determine if I can reconcile my own beliefs with those of the UMC. Theologically, I don't see a great deal of a problem (I realized in seminary that I was quite a Wesleyan Baptist), but polity-wise, I have more questions. I've talked with Jill about this, and am thinking about meeting with some other UMC people here in Indiana that I know who have similar jobs/passions as I do (other youth ministers, college ministers, conference people) and talking to them.

I'll keep you updated. Once I figure out what I'm thinking...


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I love it when people from a church act like the Church

Had a guy and his son from Jill's church, Memorial UMC here in Terre Haute, who came over this evening and mowed our ridiculously out of control lawn. Our mower is broken/nonfunctional, or I would have done it myself.

They came over, mowed the yard, weed-eated part of it (I did the other part), swept up the clipping and hauled them off. And wouldn't take anything for their time and labor.

See, people like these two are what continue to fuel my faith that we, as humans, aren't completely screwed up. They reinforce my belief that the church can some day ascribe to be The Church, the living body of Christ in this world.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I had an idea for a blog post...

But I lost it. Hate it when that happens. I've had several ideas that have come to me during these last 4 months, but when I get to a computer with the time to write, they disappear. Need to work on finding ways to capture ideas when they happen.

Maybe they will come back some day.