Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Three Things I Want in a Church

This comes from "Monday Morning in North Georgia" which is sent to United Methodist clergy each week. It's usually an encouragement, idea, or upcoming event from our bishop or from the conference office. This week offers an excerpt from a brochure by Dr. James W. Moore for United Methodist Communications. It matches me pretty well, and I wonder what you think.

Three Things I Want in a Church

Number One - I want a church that touches my heart and stretches my mind.
I want a church that brings together the head and the heart. There are some churches that emphasize the heart to the neglect of the head, while others emphasize the head to the neglect of the heart. We believe that God is powerfully at work right here and right now through His amazing grace, touching lives, inspiring people, causing our hearts (like Wesley’s) to be “strangely warmed.” But I am also pleased that we have a faith of the head. That’s why we spend so much time on and give so much effort and energy to Christian education. We believe that a call to discipleship is a call to learn. We believe that theology is simply loving God with our minds. There are no shortcuts to knowledge or skill. It just takes a lot of dedication and hard work, a lot of commitment and discipline and prayer and study. The same thing is true with faith, with theology. You have to stretch your mind. I want a church that touches my heart and stretches my mind.

Number Two – I want a church that accepts me as I am and yet challenges me to be better. It’s easy to become discouraged. We face many pressures, stresses, deadlines, burdens, problems, and disappointments. Life can be complicated and demanding. The truth is that we all need encouragement. The good news of our Christian faith is that our Lord is a god of acceptance and encouragement. When the world threatens to rip our hearts out, God is there to encourage us, to put the heart back into us, to relight the spark, to give us new life. The director of an orphanage saw a little orphan girl climbing a tree beside the wall. One of the limbs extended over the wall and the little girl shinnied out on the limb and placed a note on the tree limb. She obviously wanted someone to find the note. Becoming curious, the orphanage director went out and pulled the note down. Here is what it said: “To whoever finds this, I love you.” That’s what I want our church to say to people. To whoever finds this, you are accepted here, and you are loved here, and we want you to help us be the instrument of God’s love to other people.

Number Three – I want a church that gathers to worship and then scatters to serve. We see this so powerfully expressed in the transfiguration story in the gospels. Jesus took his closest followers up on a mountain; there some strange and wonderful spiritual experiences happened that words could never describe. Simon Peter was so impressed by it all that in effect he said to Jesus, “Let’s stay here in the glow of this forever.” Meanwhile, the other disciples were down in the valley trying to heal an epileptic boy, but they couldn’t do it. They had no power because they hadn’t been up on the mountain. Jesus put the pietists and the social activists together. He went upon the mountain to worship, and then, empowered by that experience, he came down into the valley to serve, to help, and to heal. That’s the kind of church I want – a church that gathers us together in the spirit of Christ to worship, and then, empowered by that inspiration, we depart to be the church in the world.

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