Greetings to you all, in the name of our Lord and Savior, our Emmanuel, the Christ child Jesus.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!
As we begin this new year of 2016 we are given a chance to reflect upon the year we have just left behind and look ahead to the year that stands before us. As is common among people worldwide, this is the time to look at where we are in our lives and see what areas we need to improve in our lives and which parts we should probably consider getting rid of all together. These resolutions give us an outline for how we want the next year of our lives to go. The same practice should be done within organizations as well, including churches. As we continue on in our series of Discovering Hope we are given the opportunity to do just that.
Last month we focused on the foundation of building hope and vitality in our rural and multipoint parish: worship. This month we get to build upon that foundation. At the end of Matthew’s gospel we are given words from Jesus in which he implores his followers, and us as well, to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:19-20, NRSV). The apostle Paul echoes this commission from our Lord by speaking to the growing church in Colossae saying, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17, NRSV).
What we see from these texts is that we are to make disciples, but in order to make disciples we ourselves must first be disciples. This is done, starting with the foundation of worship, and then building upon that foundation through bible study, devotions, prayer, etc. Making discipleship a priority in the life of the congregation and the people therein. In our book of focus, focus Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations, the authors, David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung, make this point by using the analogy of a dead car battery. They say, “Jump-starting a discipleship focus in a congregation is not unlike turning over a near empty or dead battery in a car. The battery must be connected to a power source that is running and fully charged” (47). In short Poling-Goldenne and Jung are saying that in order to make disciples we must be fully charged disciples ourselves. This is done through worship, but also through intentional daily devotionals, prayer, spending time in the scriptures, and continually learning from God through bible study. The congregations that participated in the study for this book saw the greatest revitalization when they began “turning up the temperature on Bible study, learning, and discipleship” (47).
This, however, can be a stumbling block for some congregations and the people therein. A common misconception is that once you have completed the requirements for confirmation, a person no longer has to spend time learning and growing in their faith. In this sense confirmation is more like a graduation. But the truth is learning and growing in the faith is a lifelong process, and it is difficult to learn and grow without actively engaging in some sort of faith formation. Worship is a great starting point, but that is only about 1 hour a week. Worship should then be seen as the starting point, followed up then with Bible Studies, Devotions, Prayer, or other such daily or weekly faith formation practices.
Now, it is one thing for me as your pastor to be fired up about discipleship and discipleship formation programs, but my enthusiasm in this area can only go so far. It also takes enthusiasm from lay people within the parish that want to be a part of the programs currently going on or to actively seek out new ways in order for this to occur. As Poling-Goldenne and Jung point out, “While pastors have a significant role in shaping this culture, clearly it doesn’t necessarily begin or end with the pastors. Indeed, in each of these settings, lay leaders carry the vision deep into the congregation” (48). Currently, looking at the landscape of the churches of the Medina-Streeter Parish, it appears that most of the faith formation is happening for the people in the congregations between the ages of five and eighteen. We do have our WELCA bible studies in each church, and in Medina we have the MOPS group that has started and a weekly text study trying to get off the ground. And in each church we have people who receive quarterly devotional materials through the Christ in our Home publication. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are wonderful programs to have and we should continually strive to make them as accessible and meaningful for as many of our adult age people as well. But, I can’t help but wonder, is there more we can do in order to ensure that we are fully charging our batteries when it comes to discipleship?
This book offered some great insights into some new ways that we as a parish can consider implementing. Not necessarily changing the way we are doing things now, but looking at ways in which we can build upon the foundation of what we have already started to build when it comes to discipleship. As we begin this new year, let us as a parish do so by making a resolution to get more active in our formation of our discipleship and use that to help us continue to grow and be a vital rural and multipoint parish. As you go about setting your personal resolutions this year, I would strongly encourage you to think about what a resolution for your own faith formation and discipleship would look like, and how that could help you in fulfilling Jesus’ great commission to make disciples of all nations, while also keeping in mind that Christ will be with you, even to the end of the age.