Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Six Recent Ministry Paradigm Shifts


I've had a lot of lightbulbs go off in my mind during the past year. Most of this stuff isn't really news to anyone--even myself--but there's something that's been stirred up in my spirit to further embrace these ministry paradigm shifts. They're scattered and not fully formed yet, and I'll probably rethink these in the years to come, but here are six shifts I'm pondering for how I practice church ministry:

From doing to being. I'm in the middle of reading this book, and I wonder if the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism being described is really a result of not finding one's identity in Christ. When we go through the motions of Christianity--attending church services, reading a Bible passage, praying before eating meals, and just "being nice"--it becomes a shallow faith of moralistic actions. But when we see God's story as our story, when our identity is completely lost in Christ, when our whole person is permeated with the truth of the Gospel, then our character begins to look like Christ's. In ministry, this requires less moralistic lessons on "how to be a better friend" and more conversations about who we are in Christ. It's shifting from church as an event on Sunday morning to church as my identity in a community of believers.

From right thinking to right living. I can't remember who originally said it, but the idea of shifting from "orthodoxy to orthopraxy" resonates with my spirit. It's moving from the head-only intellectual faith of data and information, and allowing our affections and desires move us to compassionate action and service in our world. I read in this book that it's a shift from Greek thinking to Hebrew thinking. I wonder what God will care about more in His kingdom--whether we fully understood and memorized the different theories of the atonement, or if we truly loved widows, orphans, and our neighbors with a Christ-centered love. This doesn't mean we ignore right beliefs and critical thinking, but that we understand that our beliefs are a means to an end--loving action--instead of an end in themselves. In the context of youth ministry, this means not just teaching students what to think, but how to think, giving them skills that they can put into practice. This almost sounds contradictory to the shift from doing to being, but I think it's the natural fruit of a being-oriented faith.

From setting goals to living a story. I had an annual review recently and had to write down three ministry goals for the upcoming year. It was a frustrating exercise. The thing is, goals seem so static and cold, like tasks on a checklist that I need to get done. Life simply isn't like that, which is why I think so many New Year's resolutions fail. Goals don't inspire. Stories do. I'm learning to embrace story, mostly inspired by this book. Instead of asking "what are my goals for 2011?" I'm asking "what story do I want to live in 2011?" What character do I want to become? What tension/conflict do I need to overcome? What adventure do I want for myself, my volunteers, my students? Stories are less linear and clear, but far more compelling and memorable in the long run.

From worship as singing to worship as justice. After reading this book, I was reminded again of the importance of justice in our worship. Worship and justice are intrinsically intertwined; you simply can't have one without the other. If our church is great at singing songs and creating compelling environments for praising God, but isn't righting the wrongs in our neighborhood and our world, then I wonder if God even listens to our singing. God has some pretty harsh words in Amos about it, saying that He hates the Israelites' festivals and feasts due to their lack of justice. This is about combating individual and systemic wrongs, pursuing the shalom of God, finding Jesus in the margins of society. It means rethinking our language, not equating "worship" with "moment on Sunday when we sing songs."

From avoiding pain to embracing suffering. I prayed way back at the beginning of this year that God would teach me humility. That's a dangerous and stupid prayer to pray, because He'll do it. This has been a pain-filled season for me, where suffering knows no bounds and seems to infect every aspect of my life. Yet I don't want to throw myself a pity party, nor do I want to tough it out by my own strength. I'm learning that God shapes our hearts and our faith in the middle of suffering, that He enters into our pain and hurts with us. Instead of avoiding tough conversations with students, I'm learning to cry with them. Instead of offering pat answers and cliched wisdom to volunteers, I'm learning to silently listen and pray. Instead of hiding or avoiding my pain, I'm learning to fully feel it, to allow God to shape me through it, not using it as a tool for ministry, but simply learning to see God as the Healer.

From programs to presence. Continuing to be inspired by this book--see how reading is important?--I'm learning how valuable it is to be fully present to God and people, not outrunning what the Holy Spirit is doing in any given moment. Presence requires slowing down and listening, simply being with people and noticing the subtle stirrings of God in every conversation. I'm learning this through being with my son, trying to remove distractions like cell phones and Facebook and instead be fully present to his tiny soul, loving him in every moment. He runs around the house, giggling and babbling, playing with a toy in one moment and wanting me to read to him in the next. I could be productive and work on my computer, or I could run around and be silly with him. Programs are productive; presence is life-giving.

Which of the six shifts most resonates with you right now?

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