Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

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Overture 15 from Classis Northern Illinois asks that we “Mandate Denominational Agencies and the Board of Trustees to Develop Concrete Strategies to Carry Out the Great Commission.” This is supported with four grounds (reasons):

  1. The Great Commission IS the mandate delivered to us by the Risen Christ.
  2. We are declining in membership.
  3. The Great Commission is part of our denomination’s Ministry Plan.
  4. Focusing on “social and environmental issues” is a distraction and drain on our purpose.
It’s an interesting Overture – so VERY right on the surface that we might be incline to think, “Well, who’s gonna argue with that?” Well I guess that’s why they’re paying ME the big bucks* …
  1. Yup. Arguing with Jesus is above my pay grade. So, yup.
  2. True, although misleading in a vacuum. The church in North America (Mainline, Catholic, Evangelical) is losing members. That’s worth wondering about. However, citing the anecdotal observation that “a sizable portion of CRC congregations and their leaders feel deep anxiety and confusion about the future” as reason may be counter-productive. The fact that “we’re all freaking out over here” may not be the atmosphere in which the best, most thoughtful strategic planning takes place. And I seem to remember Jesus saying something about worry. As I recall, he was against it.
  3. Yes, the Great Commission is a Part of our Ministry Plan but, as the overture itself states, “God rules over all,” which means a great commission focus that excludes
  4. “social and environmental concerns” might, in fact, undermine our denomination’s understanding of what all the Gospel entails. That maybe it is more than sinner’s prayers prayed and notches in our Bible covers. That maybe it is more than giant churches, full sanctuaries and Yearbook stats. That maybe the Great Commission begins with this one word: “Go.” Not “stay.” Not “safety in numbers.” But “Go.” And do you know the conclusion of the Great Commission? Say it with me now, all together:
“For lo, I am with you to the very end of the age.”
 
Despite how it may sound, I am not opposed to this overture. Not really. I do think we are getting awfully distracted by many things (as I imagine the proportion of comments to this blog post as opposed to the one previous will amply attest.) But I don’t resonate with anxiety as a grounds/reason. And I’m also not sure I resonate with a Gospel that is distinct from “social and environmental issues.”
 
*I’m a volunteer. But they gave me a nice mug.
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"as I imagine the proportion of comments to this blog post as opposed to the one previous will amply attest." So do you think this will get more or less responses than your previous blog ; )?

"we are getting awfully distracted by many things."  This is so true.  On a related note, we as a denomination need to make the same choices as you and I do in my home and congregations do. There is so much we would love to attend to--especially with our broadsweeping view of the reformation. But if we want to attend to more and more and more, more so than we have the energy or income to do well, we get spread so thin we are not effective at any of it.  I and many others in local ministry have had our salaries frozen since 2008--that is one of the sacrifices to make it through difficult times. In those same days we as a denomination seem to have added one good thing after another, after another. And we are told that ministry shares are declining. Hmm. What do we call it if our income is declining, yet we keep projecting more responsibility and new projects?

I do hope we do not drive ourselves into a hole that we implode financially as has happened with Faith Alive.  The seeds for Faith Alive's demise were laid with decisions made back in the 80s--not just with changes in the publishing world the last five years.

What this overture does call us to is making hard decisions about what is core to us as a denomination for task and what may be discretionary. Something has to give somewhere or we may kill ourselves as a denomination.

Originally, I don't think this post followed on the heels of the one about re-studying to advise the church on homosexuality.  That changes whether I thought it would recieve more or fewer hits. ;-)

I like your comments, Meg. I have always had and still do have a difficult time with the thinking that somehow the call to the Great Copmmission and to dig in re social issues is somehow mot the main thing. When I recently read Rob Bell's interesting book Jesus Came To Save Christians I think this sort of thinking is, in part, what Jesus came to save us from. I want no part of that dualistic thinking. It is not part of  my theology. And I am personally very passionate about the call to go and make disciples! Amen to that.  

I'll throw one in, Meg!

In the N. Illinois overture, the complete statement was "to mandate all denom. agencies and the BOT to focus and prioritize their energies to develop concrete strategies..."

I agree with you that anxeity should not be the primary ground or reason for developing strategic planning. But was that the context in which the ministry plan of the denomination was developed?

My real curious question is about whether or not most leaders withing the denomination (boards, agencies, congregational) even pay attention to the Ministry Plan (c. 1997, updated 2010)

I agree with the overture, like you, as far as it calls us to focus and prioritize. But what I don't think this entails is ignoring our core value of affirming a kingdom perspective. Let's pray that every Synod helps us as a denomination to focus and prioritize our energies!

I agree with the overture. Our main purpose is stated in the great commission. 

Some of our denominational leaders are getting involved with global warming and dialoguing with the Roman Catholic Church about different issues. Some of these things are distractions from our main purpose in reaching out to the lost and in discipling the found. 

One of the ways of refocussing priorities, is to evaluate how much time we spend on environmental and social issues compared to spiritual issues.   When is the last time you saw an announcement about someone's spiritual growth or development in the bulletin, or a testimony about the power of prayer in the service, or a cry for help with the lifestyle or disobedience of a child, husband or neighbor, or a rejoicing in the communication and progress with a witnessing?   Compare that to the announcements about choirs, bands, christian world renew, facilities, budgets, etc.  Even renaming CRWRC to WR is counter intuitive to the mission goals and priorities of proclaiming the name of Christ, which has now been eliminated from this effort.  Christ's kingdom is "not of this world",  it is in this world, but it will not exist in our lives no matter what we do, if we do not first acknowledge Christ in what we do.  

It seem to me that there was someone else who wanted to identify "the main thing" by asking Jesus to define it.  Jesus reply was that there were 2 things that were the main thing: love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:34-40).  Social Justice/Earth Care is the main thing.  Just like evangelism is the main thing.  To abandon either is to proclaim an incomplete gospel.

 

I must have a dated version of Matthew 28...mine has something about Christ's authority, and about "making disciples of all nations" and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  If earth-keeping and social justice (the God-given right to human dignity) are not part of what Jesus taught (admittedly assuming He had some affinity with the OT concepts of humans in the image of God and the earth as a stewardship assignment), then I'm confused about the Gospel.  I would suggest that synod declare that, far from being distractions, these things are essential and any gospel without them is heresy.  I would further suggest (this from personal experience) that a whole Gospel is what a fractured world is hungry for.

Stan, the main thing is what we cannot do without.  The main thing is primary.  But that doesn't mean that other things are not important or significant.  What you call social justice, and others might call social mercy, is part of loving our neighbor.  But it should be a result of the main thing, which is loving God as a result of His love for us.  To me, Matthew 28 doesn't talk about earth-keeping, and obeying everything Jesus commanded is much broader than just making sure that poor "Lazarus" at the gate of the rich man, has a job and his wounds cared for, although it does include that.   It also includes the commandments against idol worship, adultery, theft, etc., and includes the commandments from the Lord outlined by the apostle Paul against perversions.   (Rom 1:25)   Is earthkeeping bad?  Of course not;  the earth is the Lord's and He commanded us to care for it, but he gave it to us for our use and benefit as well.   On the other hand, Jesus very clearly said that His kingdom is not of this world.   So it's not about neglecting certain things;  its about keeping the main thing the main thing.   Outside of a correct context, earthkeeping can become an idol;   it has been an idol for millenia... think gaia worship.   The earth is the Lord's, and Christ's kingdom is not of this world.   This is the balance.