Jan 10, 2019 - We began our evening with a devotional on Ezra 3: 10-13, in which we hear the story of the rebuilding of the Temple after the Israelites returned ...
HOLY CONVERSATIONS/ Summary of Conversation #4 at CCFUMC January 10, 2019 We began our evening with a devotional on Ezra 3: 10-13, in which we hear the story of the rebuilding of the Temple after the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon. The story line is that many cheered to laying of the foundation for the new Temple, but some could not cheer because it wasn’t the old Temple. The final phrase of the passage is, “The people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard from far away.” (Ezra 3: 13) We noted that in any venture, there are those who can anticipate and be joyful for the new thing, and others who want to cling to the memories of the former days. We noted that this dynamic is present in the CCFUMC congregation. In response to a question raised by Rev. Thornburg (If the Jesus in front of the church were turned around 180 degrees such that he was facing the sanctuary, what would he be saying to the congregation?), one team member said that he had been with a friend who described FUMC as a snobby church. In the light of that comment, the team member took up the issue of what Jesus would be saying. He said, “He would be saying, ‘The church is a home for everyone.’” That same team member then asked, “Are we supposed to let everyone in?” The team responded affirmatively. Then the team member said, “We are on purpose not letting everybody in.” This raises the larger question faced by any congregation, “Who is our ministry for?” That is, who is meant to benefit from the ministry of the church? Members of the team spoke of the difficulty in American religious life to be successful in attaining a racial mix on Sunday morning. They noted the thoroughly segregated nature of most churches, regardless of race. This led another team member to pose a choice, put in the form of two questions: -Are we being called to work on a demographic shift (such that we actively seek a population group not currently represented in the church)? -OR Are we being called to be ______? [Here the team member was indicating that the church could be called to one of a variety of different foci. For example, a congregation could be called to focus on families with special needs children, senior adults in poverty, etc] To put it a little differently, this highlighted the difference between focusing on a group of people and focusing on a pressing issue faced by people. This conversation led the group to ask, “Who is actively involved in the life of the church?” The force of the question was that if the church were to embark on a bold strategy either to reach a new group of people or to focus on a pressing issue faced by people, it would take a lot of commitment and energy. The team asked whether the 80/20 rule applied at FUMC (i.e., the 20% of the people do 80% of the work). Given the number who had stood the previous Sunday when asked if they participated in a ministry or sat on a committee or team, the team thought that 80/20 didn’t capture the reality at FUMC. That is, more than 20 % of people are significantly involved.
This conversation also illuminated the issue of whether the church should focus more of its energy on the care of the members and constituents, or on those the church is attempting to serve and/or attract. The team then turned to the issue of naming the church’s mission field. Rev. Thornburg said that the leading question of determining our mission field is, “To whom is God sending us?” The church’s mission field can be defined geographically, demographically, by cause or some combination of all three. So, as a theoretical example, we might say something like this: Geographic • The church serves all people within a five mile radius of the church • The church serves the area bounded by Louisiana Ave., S. Staples St and Martin Luther King Dr. Demographic • The church serves white collar professionals and their families • The church serves those who are interested enough to enter our building for whatever reason they enter Cause • The church is determined that no child will eat out of a dumpster in Corpus Christi • The church intends to upbuild the lives of homeless teens The team began to think through its current mission projects and emphases and discovered that there are elements of all three, and that particular ministries are really a combination of all three. What Rev. Thornburg was attempting to help the team discern was whether there are historic patterns to the church’s mission, whether they are concentrated in a particular part of Corpus Christi, and where the current energy for mission lies. This led to a conversation about the balance any church must tend to, namely, the care of the membership and maintenance of the church as an institution AND the care of those to whom God is sending us to spread God’s love. Both are essential, but in a time in which a church is declining in membership and financial resources, this balance has to be even more carefully calculated. This pointed to an issue with which the team is beginning to wrestle. It can be seen most easily when we hear the question, “How can we get people to come here?” or even, “Why don’t people come here?” The questions reflect the worry that people have that the church they love so much is struggling to maintain the ministry to which it is accustomed. Rev. Thornburg then introduced two broad ways to think about the church: attractional or missional The Attractional Model • Characterized by the sense that we have something valuable to offer, and so if people want that, they must come to the church to receive it
Characterized by the conviction that we are good and interesting people and that others will want to be with people like us Built on a highly institutional model, with buildings of a certain kind, staff members who fit particular descriptions and offer different programs, and supported almost solely by the gifts of members
The Missional Model • Characterized by the conviction that God is sending us out to discover what God is already doing in the community and to come up alongside it • Not so dependent on institutional structures and engaged in developing funding sources both inside and outside the church • Based on the conviction that it’s more important to be interested than interesting, i.e. not expecting people to come to us, but going to them to find out what their skills are, what their passions and motivations are The team’s next step is to go out into the Corpus Christi community, talking with people who know and love Corpus Christi and care about its future. Among many others, this might include: • The mayor • The school superintendent • The police chief and other first responders • Health care providers • Child Protective Service Workers • Educators • Business owners • Apartment managers • Heads of HOAs • Librarians The reason for these visits is to see how these officials measure the pulse of the city. We also do it to see if many of them see the same things. We then ask the question, “Is God doing something in Corpus Christi that we must be aware of? Is there something God is calling us to do to make a difference?” The team will spend its next meeting continuing the mission field assessment, determining the people we want to interview, and forming the questions we want to ask.