Monday, March 23, 2009

Tom Bandy on Mission

Church development guru, Tom Bandy, has been most helpful to us in North Alabama as we think our way into the future. Tom Bandy has made a number of helpful visits to the North Alabama Conference in the past few years. I’m sure that those visits are part of why we enjoyed such overwhelming support for our district reformation. In a recent book, Mission Mover, Bandy notes something that got me to thinking. Bandy says to us clergy, “Once a time when preparing for ministry meant meetings, political activism, counseling, now it’s preparing to interject Jesus into the conversation and a willingness to relinquish control.” (Pg 27)

We clergy are called by the church to talk about God, to interject Jesus into the conversation and, in Bandy’s words, to be willing to “relinquish control.” Alas, most of us who have been to seminary are better trained to analyze and to construe the human condition through mainly sociological, political, or economic categories than essentially theological ones. We adopt the language of anthropology and relinquish our peculiar theological speech.

I agree with Bandy that we must reclaim our essentially theological vocation. We are to be “God people,” those who “interject Jesus into the conversation” in a world that would rather think in exclusively anthropological categories.

Recently somebody wrote to me complaining about some political statement that was made by the National Council of Churches, criticizing their stand and saying that it was “unpatriotic” and “not supportive of our troops” and the “war effort.” I replied that, while I had no great interest in the waning influence of the National Council of Churches, I was a preacher, a person who was supposed to talk about Jesus and the Bible rather than be concerned with matters like “patriotism” and “the war effort.”

I think that we clergy must discipline ourselves to talk about peculiarly, specifically biblical concerns rather than allow ourselves to be drawn into and preoccupied with essentially secular (that is, godless) matters.

Bandy goes on to say that, “Yesterday’s challenge was to find leaders who could help people discern Christ in the midst of godlessness, today’s challenge is to find leader who can help people discern Christ in the midst of rampant godliness.” I like that. Yesterday, we were worried about secularism, atheism. Today, our concern is “rampant godliness,” vague and free-floating, vacuous “spirituality.” Our task is to help people look at their lives, not in terms of some vague sense of the “spirituality.” Our task is to help people look a their lives, not in terms of some vague sense of the “spiritual,” but specifically in the light of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace. We have got to give some content and challenge to the “rampant godliness” that infects our culture, to point to the specific, discipleship demands of Jesus Christ, rather than allow folk to slip into an inconsequential morass of the merely, vaguely spiritual.

At least that’s what Tom Bandy has got me to thinking this week.

Will Willimon

4 comments:

Steve West said...

Hello Bishop!

Interesting that you should post on this subject, I've been thinking about the same thing. Earlier this week, I posted this on my own blog:

IS JESUS OR HUMANITY THE CENTER OF OUR SPEECH AND PRACTICE?

I saw this quote by Ben Simpson on another blog recently and loved it. This articulates my greatest hope, which is in our return to focusing on Christ, our true vine:

"As I’ve worked among friends I’ve had a common refrain, and that is that the hope of the denomination does not rest in our ability to formulate strategic plans or to rally our collective energies around common political initiatives. It rests in a return to God. I have noted that the most telling sign that renewal is near or soon to take place will be the moment when Jesus, rather than we human beings, becomes the center of our speech and our practice. I will know things have turned when our talk of Jesus seems to reflect that we believe in a living, dynamic, active, Lord who is our Master and Teacher, walking among us, instructing us, leading us, correcting us, and transforming us, rather than referring to a cosmic Christ who may be the object of our worship, but not one in whom we trust to accomplish all that much in our presence."

I pray it may be so! The key to transformation for God's church is not going to be in working harder or smarter. It is not going to be institututional, focusing on growth in numbers, but relational, focusing on growth in the Spirit. It will be in practicing the presence of Christ and passionate biblical hospitality.

For the rest of the article, check out "An Open Letter to Young United Methodist Leaders" by Ben Simpson (can be found by search engine).

William H. Willimon said...

Thank you Steve. I have seen Ben's post and I am excited so many young clergy have taken the time to pray for the denomination and their place within the Church to help move us ever forward.

Warren Baldwin said...

Current economic conditions have many Christians deeply concerned, even scared. Who isn't a bit disturbed? But, if conditions worsen, the church may have a wonderful opportunity to do what you are advocating in this post. God may be providing the cirucmstances for us to model genuine Christ-like behavior and service to a world in search of something real. WB

dt parker said...

Bishop Willimon,

Again, you touch on something near and dear to my heart.

Far too often, pastors look at the lives of their people (their people includes not just their members, but their entire community) , and want to treat the symptoms. The failing marriages, the trauma of bereavement, the challenge of raising children in this world.)

The symptoms are simply that, visible signs of the trauma of sin, Satan's attacks, and the threat of death.

We so often want to help, to heal them of the distractions that seek to separate them from the love of God. And we fall into temptation and try to heal all - first.

The answer is to lift Christ high, that He can draw all men to himself. To encourage a faith that pours out one's heart, and releases the burden to Him, trusting Him to be God.

It is then, basking safe in His peace, that we can address these other things, not as the object of our faith, but sesnt out to do that.

May, as this season of Lent draws to a close, we realize that Jesus is the Savior, the Deliverer, and may we point people to Him.