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As You Go Ministry

If you haven’t heard or experience a pop up consignment shop, restaurant, or community meal, then you are missing a big part of the current economy. Maybe the idea came from the flash mob phenomenon that made you feel like you were part of a musical. Maybe it came from the millennial movement patterns. Maybe it has to do with the changing economy that has pushed for people to be more creative.

I honestly don’t know the why of it, but I do know that musicians, business owners, and restaurant owners are not letting doing things the way they have always been done get in the way of their ideas and dreams. They are creating a place and space for them to follow their passions as they go. This allows flexibility, mobility, and creativity to flourish.

As I have read about and experienced these pop events, I couldn’t help but draw the connection to Jesus’ ministry. Isn’t this what Jesus did?

He popped into town after town, found his way to the synagogue and often found his way to teaching a crowd of people. And when he was on the way from one town to the next, he healed and taught and fed the people he met along the way. There’s a movement to Jesus’ ministry that is often missing from our communities of faith. We make the trip to our place of worship, but as we go to those communities of faith, we often ignore or pass by the need that surrounds us. We get so focused on getting somewhere or getting from one place to the next that we miss the people that pop into our path.

Whether you believe in providence or not, there is no doubt that we are traveling through life with people. People we know. People we don’t. People who are like us. People who are different us.

But all people who need someone to pop into their lives and see them and hear them and love them. Maybe that’s what the pop up culture can teach the church: no matter where you pop up, there is a need for community and a need for healing.

 

Ministry is Disruption

If somehow in the midst of your journey to answer a call to ministry, you’ve thought that ministry is a stable, secure profession, it’s not. Ministry disrupts your life and your plans. Ministry puts you in the middle of shootings, in the middle of assembling bleach kits for a needle exchange program, and in the middle of a group of people waiting for the door of the homeless shelter to open so they can have a place of refuge for the day.

As I held our eight-month old on one hip and a bag of donated bread in my other hand saying, “Good morning,” to the people who were waiting to get in, there was a fleeting moment where I wondered if I should have brought him with me. Maybe as a parent, I should be shielding him from the man sleeping on newspaper and the clients who live at shelter who are dressed and headed to work, just like they do every morning. Maybe I shouldn’t be showing him the Lexus SUVs and Sedans of the staff who are scanning into work while others wait outside having not eaten since the night before.

But this is exactly what I want our son to see. I want him to see and understand privilege.

I want him to be on the outside with those being kept out and monitored. I want him to understand that ministry is disruption whether that’s a disruption morning routine in order to drop off donations or disruption by trying to give bread to people waiting outside of the homeless shelter until the security guard has to come out and explain that all donations have to go inside to be reallocated later in the day.

We have convinced ourselves that ministry is predictable, patterned, and planned because that’s easier, safer, and more comfortable.

Ministry is not comfortable.

Ministry is not predictable.

Ministry is disruption.

 

Worship When Life Has Not Gone As Planned

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The call Sam and I felt to start ministrieslab to pop up in the midst of need is indeed a call from God to minister to God’s people, but I didn’t realize it was a call to question my own privilege. Privilege that blinds me to need. Privilege that causes me to think I know how to help people. Privilege that makes me believe I know how to plan an authentic and engaging worship service because I hold a MDiv.

Privilege that’s challenged me every week over the past eight weeks as I walk into Transitions Homeless Shelter. As I walked in today, our pianist was practicing, but this week it was different. He had gathered a chorus with him, a chorus that gladly agreed to sing as part of our service. As they ran through Amazing Grace, more and more people came in the open door and set down as I set the Lord’s table for communion.

And with the music, came worship.

Worship not that I had planned, but that the clients at Transitions led. Worship that came from their hearts, their concerns, their voices, their experiences, their needs. Worship led by God’s people. Worship that transformed my understanding of what worship truly is.

I come from a tradition of carefully-crafted worship services with orders of worships, written calls to worship where the leader and people’s parts are clearly labeled, and where those who lead the service often don’t worship because they are concerned about ensuring that everything goes as planned. Today, I didn’t have to start the worship service, but instead I was invited into worship with this community of faith.

There is a beautiful truth that exists in this integrated community of faith: life has not gone as planned. In this community of faith, race, gender, and sexuality don’t matter because the truth that we are all in need transcends all those labels. It reminds me a lot of our chapel experiences at Gardner-Webb School of Divinity that invited us to worship together, black and white, old and young, male and female, and all kinds of different sexuality.

Perhaps instead of planning worship so carefully, we should instead plan on placing ourselves in the midst of need. Because there in the midst of need, we will surely find the presence of God.

 

 

Do We Have to Welcome and Affirm All?

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As the conversation about gender and sexuality is more prevalent in American culture, the question, “Do we have to welcome and affirm all?” is circulating in churches.

Some churches are responding to these conversations and this question by expressing their rights as religious institutions to express condemnation and judgement. Some churches are responding to these conversations and this question by expressing that it seems like churches are being asked to be politically correct and not faithful, even calling on people who have been saved from homosexuality to speak out. Some churches have even decided to identify as welcoming, but not affirming, but have found grave difficulty in the practical implementation of this theological tenet.

Yesterday, as I lead worship at Transitions with Ministrieslab, I was struck by the reflections of those gathered about being homeless and how people perceive you. “I know this sounds crazy and most people won’t believe me, but homelessness is the best choice I made because I chose a life away from addiction and constantly being in that environment. This is my new life.”

I can’t help but feel the same way. As a woman called to preach, coming out as a woman preacher was the best decision I made. It caused me to cut ties with a past of spiritual abuse and step into a future full of resurrection.

But my story, the stories of members of LGTBQ community, and the story I heard at Transitions challenge the church that has created discriminatory membership practices that teach some people are welcomed and affirmed by God and others aren’t. As churches and denominations continue to debate whether they should welcome and affirm all, those of us who have been rejected, silenced, and treated as outsiders will continue to gather, continue to worship, and continue to tell our stories.

And once churches and denominations have settled on this question, they just might find themselves without members as the rest of us work to bring the kingdom of God here on earth by partnering with organizations who are busy helping rather than busy debating.

To Love is to Call By Name

I’ve just recently finished re-reading Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle. I’ve had the experience of having the book mean something completely different to me during this time of my life. That’s the power of words, isn’t it? They can change and transform you again and again as you meet or re-meet them at different point in time.

L’Engle writes:

It seems more than ever the compulsion today is to identify, to reduce someone to what is on the label. To identify is to control, to limit. To love is to call by name.

Her book was published in 1980, so “today” for her didn’t include the discussion about the NC bathroom law or the Marriage Equality Ruling and yet her words ring true for today’s discussions and debates.

We reduce people to labels of sexuality and of gender when we want to generalize and ostracize. We reduce people to labels when we want to oppress. We reduce people to labels when we want to maintain power. We reduce people to labels when we repeat the rhetoric that includes labels rather than people.

I’m finding this to be even more true as we minister to the community of people as ministrieslab.

Oh so you are ministering to the homeless?

No, we are ministering to Lee and Adam and Melanie and Rhonda and…

To love is to call by name, not label.

Thanks be to God for visionary writers who write words that challenge how we minister and how we love.

Listening to Need Rather Than Assuming Need

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Over the past three Sunday nights, ministrieslab has been popping up at Transitions and leading a communion-based worship service. We knew we were responding to a need for a community who had no worship service on Sundays and who had limited mobility to attend church services, but we weren’t sure what would come out of our worship experience. Since the uniting factor of this community is that the clients don’t have homes, I’ll be the first to admit that I thought these would be the needs that would come up during our time of worship.

I was wrong.

I let my assumptions and societal labels determine how I saw the people with whom we are creating church rather than listening to their voices express their needs. Last night as we shared in the prayers of the people, I heard need. It was need for reconciliation with loved ones. It was need for community in the midst of grief. It was need for healing in the midst of physical pain and limitation. It was need for hope in desperate situations.

It was need, just like my need.

Our church that is forming with this community is just like any other church. This church is in need of a word from God. A reminder of the transforming power of God’s love for God’s people. A promise of hope in the midst of brokenness and pain.

And this preacher needed the reminder that the labels of homeless, unemployed, or addicted are identities we humans label each other with in order to divide, compare, and make ourselves feel better than other people. When it comes down to it, we are all God’s people struggling and wrestling to find that divine breath Creator God breathed into humanity so that we can become living beings and co-creators who bring the kingdom of God here on earth.

If you want to join us in helping create church with this community, contact me to find out how you can come and serve during our worship experiences.

Serving Side by Side

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This morning, Sam and I (and Ben) served as volunteers for the Transitions Job Fair. Transitions is an amazing ministry in Columbia that helps aid and assist people who find themselves without homes. We were honored to be asked to help serve in the computer lab to assist clients as they created their resumes and tried to fill out applications online.

As I was working with a couple of different people, I was overwhelmed with the hopelessness that surrounded them. They explained to me they had always worked and as I urged them to write their work experience down on their resume, they admitted they were embarrassed. I gently prodded and asked why and two of the women I spoke to said the same thing, “Because it’s been so long since I’ve had a job.” I tried to encourage them that many places understood the economic climate and to still try to put resumes out there, but my words felt empty.

I sat beside them more aware of my own privilege than I have been in a long time. There are so many things I know. I know how to type. I know how to check email. I know how to look for jobs online. I know how to format an email as I am in communication with potential employers, but how and when I had learned these things.

When you realize how truly privileged you are, you have two options. You can maintain and continue that privilege by not giving back and ignoring those in need or you can do something whether in word or deed to try to bridge the gap of privilege our society has created. There are always opportunities to serve and to come beside those in need.

It’s just about popping up where need is.

It Doesn’t Take Much to Have Church

Yesterday, I was being interviewed by the local news station about the disaster relief work Emmanuel headed up in response to the historic flood in October. We were sitting in the home of one of the recipients of the generous donations of FBC Orangeburg and Fernwood Baptist Church.

We sat in Victorian Lakes Mobile Home Community conversing in English and Spanish and received the hospitality of this single mom who showed us the repair work she has been patiently and consistently tried to complete over the past six month. Even as she showed me and the reporter the hole in her daughter’s room where the water seeped in around an electrical outlet, she kept telling me how blessed she was to still have her home and have her kids safe. I thought about when we were giving out water and food and clothes that first Friday after the flood and how she made sure that everyone had some before she took anything for herself. As she recounted her experience of having to pack a bag and be ready to evacuate her house to the reporter, I thought to myself We are having church right here, with a news camera, in two different languages. 

This is ministrieslab, popping up in the midst of need and offering you the chance to participate. If you donate from now until Sunday, April 24, we’ll give every bit of it to this single mom who is trying to make repairs on her trailer.

When Partners Become Co-Pastors

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I relayed to Emmanuel this past week during our Easter celebration that Mary in John’s gospel account was in the same place. For years she had dedicated herself to being a disciple of Jesus, which was easy to define because Jesus was among them. He was literally walking among them, so following him meant walking with him, but once he died, none of Jesus’ disciples knew exactly what it meant to be a disciple anymore. How do you follow someone who no longer is walking among you?

Mary decided she was going to go to the place where she last saw Jesus: to his tomb, but what she found confused her even more. His body was not there and the stone had been rolled away. She ran to tell the other disciples what she had seen. And after the disciples saw and left the tomb, Mary let the emotion of what she had experienced and the grief over Jesus’ death engulf her and she stood at the edge of the tomb weeping. And again Mary is alone. She is alone with her grief, she is alone with her questions, she is alone. And she glances back into the tomb and with her tear-stained eyes, she saw two angels, these divine beings. And they asked her why she was weeping and she explained to them that she didn’t know where Jesus’ body was and with that statement what she was really saying was that she didn’t know what was going on or where to turn. Her whole life had been spent following Jesus and now what was she supposed to do when there wasn’t even a tomb holding the body of the one she had followed to visit or tend? She had nothing to do, but stand and stare.

In the midst of Mary’s confusion about what had happened and in her wondering what was next, there Jesus appeared to her, not as someone she recognized, but looking like a gardener, but when Jesus called her name, suddenly everything made sense. And because she is the first to witness the miracle, she is told to deliver the message to the other disciples.  And because she lingered alone, confused and frightened, she received an explanation for the empty tomb. And Mary, Mary alone who stood waiting and wondering at the tomb of Jesus  is the one who first sees and first hears from the Risen Christ.

Maybe it’s not in the certainty of the resurrected Christ, but in the uncertainty of what is going on and what’s going to happen next that we find Christ. Maybe it’s when we can’t find answers and when we aren’t sure about what we are seeing that Jesus enters the picture; a picture so confusing that we don’t even recognize him. And yes, maybe it’s when we are alone sobbing with grief, not understanding what we are seeing that we experience the Risen Christ.  

Maybe in our moments of vulnerability, of uncertainty, of not knowing what happens next, comes new life, new hope, a new chapter.

In the midst of this transitional period, I’ve had many people tell me that I had done it wrong. “You aren’t supposed to resign before you know what the next step is,” they told me, but I felt strongly that God was asking me to step into the unknown because God knows that it is the most uncomfortable and vulnerable place for me.

I’m so thankful I have a partner who dares me to dream bigger and challenges me to see more and bigger than I ever would be able to see alone.

And by partner, I mean co-pastor!

Minister Locally

There is a movement in the food industry to shop locally and buy food grown locally. In fact, there are whole restaurants dedicated and capitalizing on this movement. The idea is that by supporting local economy and locally grown food, sustainability within a community rises.

In the context of church life, churches are looking at declining membership, declining growth, and declining interest in religious organization; ministering locally is the key to sustainability. Focusing on ministering to communities within a five to ten mile radius of the church transforms the church from a religious organization into a center of the community.

So why haven’t more churches invested in a philosophy of ministering locally? Most churches are no longer neighborhood churches. Although churches are often located within neighborhoods or close to neighborhoods, the majority of their membership no longer comes from those neighborhoods. Instead the number of people who drive more than ten miles to church outweighs the number of people who are within a five to ten mile radius.

Churches that have existed for eighty years or more have seen vast changes in their neighborhood demographics and these changes aren’t always what the kind of people the church wants coming through their doors. While the message from the pulpit might be about how Jesus welcomed the stranger, the message of the security guard and locked doors speaks loudly that Jesus might have said, but the church certainly doesn’t want those who are hungry, naked, and in need wandering in off the streets.

Ministering locally means assessing the needs of the community within which the church resides and meeting those needs by connecting those in need to resources within the church or resources within the community. This is how church used to be and how church still is in rural communities. People would go to the church for help in times of crisis, but now it’s hard to even find someone who is willing to listen to a need in churches.

By forgetting to look and see our neighbors in need, we are forgetting what it means to be church. Church doesn’t exist to serve its members. Church exists in order for people to come together to transform a community through service. By serving those in need, the members of the church become transformed themselves. Not only do we find ourselves in an era of church life where we don’t seek transformation, we also find ourselves in an era of church life where we don’t even want to be challenged or any kind of change.

As churches continue to serve their members, churches’ life spans will continue to decline.

Minister locally.

Give hope to your neighbors in need and guarantee a future for the church.