It is around this time of the year that the demands of community life add up. From school to sports, social life to planning for upcoming events, from regular commitments to unscheduled sickness, the moments seem to press in on us. There is a simple consequence. In busy times I default to the urgent.
This coming week at our fall classis meeting we will discuss an overture to make some changes to Article 17. The request comes out of a concern for the ministry of the church: we have been given a ministry of reconciliation and yet in our practice of Article 17, reconciliation and healing seem so problematic.
I was reminded by a conversation in the forum that I had planned to develop material on the various positions and tasks in the community of elders. I’m glad someone took up the challenge of the job descriptions. I am not particular enough for naming it all. What interests me more is the question what makes for excellence in council leadership. It clearly means more than leading a meeting well or providing competent or interesting minutes. Here are some thoughts I have:
Yesterday I preached on the parable of the prodigal – with emphasis on the elder son on the story. This morning I read Psalm 1. The two passages provide an intriguing intersection of ideas. Psalm 1 celebrates the Law of the Lord. It is a source of life and hope. Such a life of righteousness is a place of abundance. Yet the elder son who did everything commanded stands on the outside of the celebration of redemption.
Our use of money is one place where our spirituality gets incarnated. Spirituality in our imagination is rather high-minded, mystical, and holy. But money matters seem stressful, mundane, practical and –in these days of recession – discouraging.
We are strangers to each other. We know each other’s names. We can sketch some truths about the other out. But more often than not there are secrets so deep and movements of the heart so hidden that we remain strangers.Hospitality is a way of grace. It is creating safe compassionate places to free the soul to become more human, where sinners are loved into wholeness and where the self-assured can become more Christ-assured.
Leaders need to be aware of our tendency to let fear and control undermine God’s intention to liberate and restore our humanity including such things as participation, taking responsibility, creativity, and the freedom to explore. How can we do this?
In a bookstore we picked up the audio version of Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones). We started to ask: how can we use this as a congregation? It got me thinking about elders and the spiritual lives of children.
When I came home from vacation one of the first newspapers we received had an excerpt from a book by Peter Hitchens (brother to Christopher): it spoke about the need to pass on faith to children. He writes
Every conversation about the things of God is laced with reflection about God. As elders, we are challenged to lead people in clear thinking. But that means elders need to think things through as well. So this makes me wonder: when and how do elders practice disciplined learning in the matters of faith?
I was working on new material for our catechetical program for the fall. In our first sessions, we want to focus on how we grow as Christians. I want youth to know what they need to practice in order to grow to maturity. In the process I listened to some youtube videos of Richard Foster. (Get a Life: the with-God life ).
In order for elders to exercise their shepherding responsibility and name sin in a person’s life, there needs to be a relationship of some meaning. We may be frustrated by another’s behavior but perhaps we need to reflect first on the nature of our relationship with the person.
The phrase “wait till marriage” has a noble meaning. Yet, the message has unintended consequence: it communicates that in marriage sexual intercourse is an entitlement.
Paul desires a maturity in Christ. Clearly, to be filled with the fullness of God requires that the love of Christ shapes our very being. Jesus makes it clear that this includes loving your enemies and forgiving those who sin against us. Mature Christian living is not just a matter of experiencing Christ’s forgiveness but being transformed in Christ’s love to reflect the love of God for his world. Elders are agents of such transformation.
What do you want? It is a simple question. But the answers touch on many complex matters of the human heart. Dealing with human desire is one of the common features of spirituality in many religious traditions. Each one agrees on this: getting what we want often leads us astray.