Christian Unity: Can It Be Anything But Personal?

Closing out this year’s Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, I wanted to share this older reflection of mine from 2011. My gratitude only continues to grow. Let us join with Jesus’ prayer, Ut Unum Sint. 

Growing up in northern New Jersey, I had little contact with the Evangelical culture common in parts of “Bible Belt,” exurban, rural America. Prayer was not commonly uttered in the public sphere, there was no presumption of church attendance, and large, modern “mega-churches” did not dot the landscape. All of these things I would observe later in life, as service in the Army took me to other parts of our nation.

I was raised in the Catholic Church, faithfully attending weekly Mass with my family, preparing for sacraments, and even helping out in small ways as a church musician and altar server. Yet my outward “faith” was rather empty. I had had the initial conversion of baptism, but not the second conversion of heart of which the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks.

Then in high school, a friend invited me to her church ”an independent fundamentalist Baptist church, to be precise. This was an entirely new experience. Read more here…

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Christian Unity: Giving Tuesday and Beyond

Ever hear of #GivingTuesday?

Think how much giving as part of our call to discipleship has changed over the past decades, or centuries–new means (i.e. electronic transfers), new opportunities (due to affluence), and new needs (due to growing inequality). And yet in church-world the conventional wisdom is that nobody likes to talk about money, right?

As part of our learning approach to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, today I want to share a quick example of how inspiring and positive asking for money can be when it’s authentically part of a call to discipleship and vision for a church going forth with Jesus Christ to spread the Gospel.

Check out this Rise capital campaign video from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC and read more about how giving as an act of discipleship doesn’t need to stop churches from dreaming and asking big.

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Christian Unity: The Old, New Evangelization

Our opportunities to learn from the experiences of fellow Christians is certainly not limited to our present day and age. For me, some of the most inspiring testimony to the possibilities of evangelization that is new comes from the work of John and Charles Wesley in 18th c. England.

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John Wesley Preaching Outdoors

Charles and John Wesley were ordained in eighteenth century England, a time when the sacrament of Holy Communion was often regarded with indifference or neglect. Church historian John Bowmer remarks that the sacraments and Christian life were widely disparaged in this “new age of reason,” and most people in the Church of England aimed for the minimums of religious practice”receiving the Eucharist three times a year and treating it as an historic custom, rather than encounter with the living God.

Unsurprisingly, most in the Church of England were not looking outward to form disciples or share the Gospel. In fact, many clergy and laity in the Church of England believed that England’s growing urban masses were beyond influence and simply had “no taste” for Christian liturgy and sacraments. Christianity was on its way to becoming a fruitless cultural niche.

So what did the Wesley brothers do in their setting of indifference and perceived divisions? Read more here…

Christian Unity: The Unbusy Pastor

Christian unity means that we can look outside the “visible bounds” of Church to develop ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ. We can expect to find the life of grace worth sharing from outside our full, visible earthly communion (Decree on Ecumenism, para. 3).

For anyone in any level of leadership, I think this classic, written in 1981 (lest anyone think the temptation to busy-ness is something new or merely internet-driven) is one of the most important pieces for any ministry leader to consider when it comes to spirituality, work, discipleship, ministry, and ultimately glorifying God with one’s life.

On this Sabbath Day of the Lord, a practical, pastoral favorite from Eugene Patterson:

The one piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket is the one addressed “to the busy pastor.” Not that the phrase doesn’t describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me.

I’m not arguing the accuracy of the adjective; I am, though, contesting the way in which it is used to flatter and express sympathy. “The poor pastor,” we say. “So devoted to his flock; the work is endless and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly.” But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife, or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront. Hilary of Tours diagnosed pastoral busyness as “irreligiosa solicitudo pro Deo,” a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him. Read more…

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Christian Unity: Mary, Our Blessed Sister

All too often the mention of Mary is perceived as a point of division among Christians. And this is a sadness.

Especially, for example, when it keeps Protestant Christians from preaching, reading, and proclaiming the great truths flowing from the life and witness or Mary (for fear of being called “too Catholic”).

Or, when it keeps Catholic Christians from speaking out against or changing examples of Marian devotion that are misleading or do not clearly show the essential difference “from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit,” (for fear of being called “too Protestant”) (CCC para. 971).

On this Saturday (a customary day for Marian devotion) of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, I offer this rich reflection from Prof. Matthew Milliner of Wheaton College.

As a new professor at Wheaton College, I proposed a course focusing on the Virgin Mary and braced for resistance, but intrigued approval was all that came my way. Nor was I alone. I learned that another course on the Virgin was being offered in a different department at Wheaton the same semester; rather than com­peting for student attention, both classes quickly filled.

And so I packed my syllabus with primary sources, supplemented with Tim Perry’s excellent Mary for Evangelicals, and off we went, twenty-five students and I, on a journey from Luke to Lourdes, from Matthew to Medjugorje. Read more…

Embraced by Grace
“Embraced By Grace” (Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.)

Christian Unity: 10 Leaders You May Not Have Heard Of

This year during the Octave/Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we’re taking a learning approach and exploring practical take ways from a diverse range of church leaders.

Today, I’m sharing these 31 Lessons From 10 Church Leaders You Should Be Listening To  from the awesome website UnSeminary.unseminary_lucidheader

Now, depending on your ministry circles, these leaders might not be household names. And that’s a good thing. Getting outside of one’s usual circle of ideas can spur us to break down assumption, reassess some of our paradigms, better understand mental models, and just plain feel refreshed by knowing we’re not alone.

Check out the list. And if something intrigues you,  go further. Read a new article or book, listen to a bit of a podcast, consider where your ministry might need a pragmatic change of wineskin. Pray and learn during this holy time of focus on Christian Unity.

Christian Unity: Understanding Our World

Looking to those outside the visible bounds of the Church can be tremendously helpful for evangelization leaders. It’s kind of like the canary in a coal mine metaphor, as there are some trends that Catholic parishes are often buffeted from due to cultural tendencies. Attendance is certainly one of these areas.

For some Catholics, the word “obligation” is a powerful and motivating one. It implies responsibility, a solemn privilege, an honor. Thus the obligation to worship on Sundays results in attending Mass at a local parish. However, that particular cultural lens on obligation has shifted. For more and more Americans, obligation carries connotations of being forced to do something undesirable, being compelled to choose what is obviously not wanted.

Yet, for our nondenominational brothers and sisters in Christ, obligation has never been an operative part of why people attend Sunday services. Now, this isn’t true for all of our Protestant brothers and sisters, as most historical denominations have had attendance policies and culturally enforced “norms” of attendance.  But by definition, a nondenominational church is outside of denominational assemblies, policies, and the like.

Empty SeatsSo, when a vibrant church leader (Carey Nieuwhof) from this sphere shares insights on why even nondenominational church attenders are attending less and less often, as an evangelizer, I’m interested.
Understanding this trend, Nieuwhof observes, “probably marks a seismic shift in how the church will do ministry in the future”–and I think he’s right. It doesn’t mean timeless truths change, but it means we change our how, just as St. Paul changed his how in different ministry contexts in Acts of the Apostles. It means pre-evangelization, not just the initial proclamation of the Gospel, becomes more and more essential (hint: it’s already essential 🙂 ).

Check out Nieuwhof’s 10 Reasons behind this trend of less frequent attendance, and consider how your ministry can respond, adapt, and be prepared for our continuously changing cultural landscape.