At the beginning of the month (June 8th) the church celebrated its “birthday” on and we welcomed in two new disciples who made a membership covenant. My congregation and another partnered to participate in a joint confirmation class. We had six students in total. This was a really neat celebration because it was the culmination of a lot of hard work from the confirmands. They had been in class for a few months learning about the foundations of the Christian faith. They had conversation with each other, their parents, sponsors, and wrote a creeds about what they have come to know their faith to mean to them (watch the video for their creeds)
The hope for the New Disciples
Time and time again we told the students that the goal of the class was not to give them all of the church answers, but the tools to grow in their faith. Answers only get you so far and build a great looking facade, but once the nice and neat “sunday school” answers begin to face the pressure of real life the facade begins to crack fairly easily. Our hope is that with the tools that they have been equipped with and the care and nurturing of a church family these young people can continue to grow into the people God has in store for them to be. After all, they cannot rely on the faith of their parents, pastors or friends when things get tough. The need to have the tools and resources to grow and claim their own personal ministry.
The New Disciples Covenant
In the service we ask the students a couple of questions about placing their trust in Jesus and turning from the glamor of evil. These questions are a way for them to make a public statement of their own faith that is dependant on no one else. This is unlike when they were baptized as infants and didn’t really have a say in the matter. This is in part because the Methodist church understands baptism as a moment where we acknowledge God claiming us into the family through grace.
Confirmation on the other hand is a time where we are able to claim God and Jesus as our personal Lord and savior. So the students then make a covenant with God and with the Church that they will continue down the path of discipleship. An important part is that the new disciples covenant is not a contract. What this means is that if one party goofs up, the other is not released from the agreement. So if the student falls a way for a time, the church still committed to caring and loving that person. And I would add, if the church messes up, as has been known to happen, the individual shows grace rather than walks away from the church.
I have been doing confirmation classes for a while now and hundreds of students have come through the ranks making similar covenants. As these new disciples begin a journey of faith I would hope that the church doesn’t forget about them. Too many times confirmation feels like graduation from church when the reality is that it is the beginning of full incorporation into the church body. I would hope that young people are able to see that they are a vital part of the church right now and not just when they become their parent’s age. I would hope that chruch church would be open enough to see the wealth of wisdom and energy that our young people bring to the church as they see things in a different light. I love it when I see congregations actively discipling young people in worship and giving them ownership over ministry. I am seeking ways to give more authentic leadership/ownership to youth in my congregation now.
The bottom line is that when I see these new disciples making these covenants I hope they are not empty commitment, but commitments that will allow us as individuals to grow in our faith and strengthen the church universal.
Today’s post represents the first “check-in” post of the blog reboot, and I have been mindful of the way that we are all doing life together. Throughout my personal study this week, and many interactions I have been drawn back time and time again to the fact that we are all in the same boat and working toward very similar goals.
As we look at the way that the “fruit” (a church way of saying tangible proof) of our growth is ripening, we need to look no further than to the way that we treat one another. If we want to see the way way we love God, we have to look no further than the way that we treat one another.
Scholar William Barclay was reflecting on a passage of scripture from 1 Corinthians 3:4-9 where Paul is reminding others that we don’t follow other apostles, but God. We are all co-laborers in the work that has been set before us. So Barclay wrote of this passage:
[blockquote source=”William Barclay”]This is extremely significant because it means that you can tell what a man’s relations with God are by looking at his relations with his fellow men. If he is at variance with his fellow men, if he is a quarrelsome, argumentative, trouble-making creature, he may be a diligent church attender, he may even be a church office-bearer, but he is not a man of God.”[/blockquote]
The way that we are tending to others is a very good indicator of our heart for God and the two-fold love commandment. Through our loving God and one another we are more fully able to live out that call on our lives. The trouble is that when we are working hard at the path we have set before us, we forget that others are earnestly doing the same thing. When the two paths cross we are quick to forget that we are meant to do life together. This “amnesia of community” is especially strong in the western society where we jump ship when the next promotion comes, a higher level youth sports team opens a spot or it gets really hard walking the path you are currently on.
In doing life together we are better able to understand the struggles of others and gain a more clear understanding of what God has in store for the whole community.
When I forget we are called to do life together:
I am easily exhausted when people don’t see things THE way I do
I see others as a means to an end rather than someone who is of sacred worth just as I am.
We are never going fast enough
I don’t care about anything besides getting my part done
When a perspective of doing life together is forgotten I am also less creative and feel more like a cog in the “productivity machine.”
So, now time for the practical.
What can we do to keep proper perspective of doing life together?
When we signed Eden up for school last year I didn’t think that we were going to be enfolding her into a family. When looking for schools that would meet the needs of our oldest daughter we knew we were in need of a place that would let her creativity bloom, and where learning would be a whole person experience rather than just the material being taught on the page. In preschool she got this with a wonderful teacher who challenged and cared for her in a way that began her love for learning. As a family we had a lot of conversation about what we wanted from a school and found St. Thomas More. It is a small school with lots of hands on, one on one time with the teacher, and there is a faith-filled language throughout the conversations and curriculum.
On an aside: as a home with two clergy parents one may think that the faith bit would be THE driving factor, but in reality it was one of many. However when Eden asked the principal about the “missing picture” in the stations of the cross during our interview for the school and the response was a warm and caring. For the record Eden didn’t know why the stations didn’t begin with the last supper rather than the condemning to death of Jesus. Like a good Methodist, our kid knew you should always start with a meal 🙂
Now the school year comes to an end we know we will miss our school family over the summer. As the year has gone on our family (Katie, Bethany, my parents, in-laws and myself) have been blessed with serving at the school. In various ways we have been able to get to know the children at the school. Weather it be serving pizza or bringing in milk for lunches, making crafts for parents or setting up for events we were able to get to know and partner with the school in making our school family a place where kids could come to ask questions and grow. I even had the chance to substitute one day for the middle school and it was a blast. We made a mess, read books, did some algebra, and had some neat conversation. Afterwards the 3 teachers that I filled in for throughout the day all said than you in their own perfect way. One teacher, who shares my love of Star Wars, even gave me some awesome stickers (hence the picture for this post).
Our School Family and the Church (universal)
As I seek to find God each day and the kind of “everyday discipleship” we are called to i think about this new family that has come into our lives. As I reflect on the past school year I can’t help but think about how St. Thomas More has taught me about being the community God calls the church to be:
Stay flexible–This year has not been without the stress of a very hard winter, relocation due to frozen pipes and the necessity for being flexible. Through the hardship of change there was a unity in getting through it together, and an opportunity to share with the kids creative problem solving and living with one another in times of unexpected change. In my church we know about flexibility. Yet there are times and places when we just want to have it work the way we know it will rather than have to change. To be reminded this year that change and flexibility give opportunity for growth were refreshing reminders during weeks where I would have been more comfortable with the status quo as the pastor….
Community blesses everyone–The school also has different “houses” made up of kids from different grades that would do some activities together. Think about it as the different houses like in the Harry Potter series. This allows the younger students to look up to the older. Also the older have a responsibility to raise up the younger. Eden was so excited when she told me all about the ways that she knows the older girls in 8th grade and that they are friends. She was beaming. I think the church can take note here. Rather than siloing our ministries into children, youth and adult there is something to be said for mixing it up and doing church as a family.
Getting it trumps getting it right— as you walk the halls of the school there is art where children have colored outside of the lines, when i was doing math with the middle school there was joy in the right answer and a hunger for “why” when an answer was incorrect, and there was a culture of growth throughout the school. How many times have you felt like you couldn’t try to give an answer if you were not totally sure if it was right? As the church we need to be incubators of disciples. We need to, as one of my colleagues said, familiarize ourselves with failure so that we might find success when and where it counts most. The Church family, like our school family must give permission to risk getting it wrong in order to more fully understand what it is to be the person God made us to be.
I can’t wait to see what our school family will teach us next year…
This summer I have a goal that I will reboot the focus of this blog in hopes of collecting some data for some little experiments I’ve been working on. In the process of doing so I may even bring value and encouragement to those who read it as well. This shift comes due to a couple of projects converging at points of web development, a personal desire to write a little bit more and an odd form of accountability throughout the summer of my personal faith growth. Plus, who doesn’t need another thing to do over the hot parts of the year? Some of the goals of the reboot:
The geek: There are a couple of projects that I am working on that have required me to know how to do better SEO (search engine optimization) for some of the sites that I am an admin for. Thus, I’m going to use my personal blog as a bit of a playground to see if the efforts that I am getting to know are bearing fruit. The books that I have read and videos I have watched say that the amount of time to see a difference in traffic is a number of weeks. So I thought that the summer would be a great amount of time for the experiment.
The Personal: During the season of lent I challenged my church to do a “Spiritual fitness challenge” and commit to daily time in the christian disciplines, setting aside things that they don’t need in their lives, and taking on something that will do good. Each week I would send an email to the group participating in the challenge to check in about their spiritual health (this was similar to a virtual covenant group for those coming out of the wesleyan traditions). This was a great practice for me in knowing others were counting on my update and would hold me accountable. In posting the practices I am engaging in and how I did each week I think I will get the same kind of accountability from this space. This exercise may also encourage some good conversation.
The Call: A final reason that I am going to give this “reboot” a shot is that a major call in my life is to connect with those who have been hurt by the church and invite them into giving God/Church another shot. My hope is that this blog would be a place where I can write/reflect on the practical ways I see God at work throughout the everyday (read, non pastor-ish) interactions and ups and downs of being someone who follows Jesus.
During the reboot I hope to be more faithful in the blogging, build an audience and clarify my voice (whatever that means). I am not sure what the next little while will bring, but I know that this summer is going to be jam packed with awesome opportunity to encounter and share about what God has been up to. The family is going to be going on a family mission trip, spending a week at summer camp, participating in a number of community activities and by and large just having some great time getting sunburn. So with this let the reboot begin.