When I was 18, a friend of mine invited me to their church. I was warmly welcomed and looked forward to experiencing their worship. The service was very similar to what I knew until the minister got up to preach his sermon. I truly cannot recall what scriptures he used or the main point he was trying to make. What I remember is the feeling of disgust I had. Everything the minister said was about what we should not do if we wanted to be a part of God's Kingdom.
He transitioned into proclaiming any churches or religions organizations that believe in other prophets or books were actually from the devil. This point alone made me feel unwelcome and aghast that this was being preached instead of the gospel message. The man went onto condemn homosexuality; how it was not from God and those who were homosexual were living in sin and going to hell.
I remember looking around the church thinking I would see others with disturbed facial expressions or concern but instead I found head nods and heard people shout "Amen." I was in disbelief with the inability of the people to see how this created division rather than unity. It ostracized rather than included. I thought about walking out but instead I sat in the pew and began praying that the minister and people there would experience the love of God.
Though I disliked the experience it was a good learning opportunity. First l discovered how religion can be used inappropriately to hurt and demean others. Secondly, I learned firsthand how if felt to be institutionally judged; to be unwelcomed unless you are step in step with the beliefs set by a church.
I am sure some of you have had similar experiences of feeling judged in a church. It may not have been from the pulpit but maybe from the looks of others or just the feeling of not being welcomed. Judgement is real and I know I have been both on the giving and receiving end of it. It abruptly halts those who are spiritually searching for God because they were unwelcome or undervalued for who they are or what they believe. So how do we balance our beliefs while still respecting others? In what ways can we welcome and include instead of divide and isolate? It is in our ability to be open and respect others decisions where Christ meets us with open arms.
I like to think being a part of God's kingdom is more about what we do than what we don't do. Community of Christ has a concept of Zion. It's about creating God's kingdom on earth; pursuing Christ centered communities throughout the world focused on joy, hope, love and peace. I love this because if focuses me on what I can do today to bring about God's Kingdom to another. It's not about believing and waiting but present action.
We all see the world differently, which means we have different thoughts and beliefs. This is beautiful because it makes the world interesting. By no means should our purpose be to change other people. I do think it is imperative we have personal reflection and active dialogue with others because we usually fear what we do not know. Talking about topics like sin, politics, homosexuality, etc. with others gives us opportunities to learn. It doesn't mean there is an expectation to change beliefs, but it helps us truly know the other person.
Creeds/ Statements of Faith
Many churches have creeds or statements people must say or believe to be a part of their church. I question if these statements breed sameness instead of embracing diversity and allowing personal identity. When others have to be just like us with speech, dress, actions, or beliefs than we miss the opportunity to love unconditionally. It's easy to like and love people who are like us but much harder for those that beat by a different drum. This is one reason why I am a member of Community of Christ. Community of Christ has a basic beliefs document however they are not universally required and must not be believed or said to be welcomed into this community. The Book of Mormon is a good example of this in CofChrist because it is considered one of our scriptural books however people hold a wide variety of beliefs about it. Some have had spiritual experiences believing wholeheartedly in its truth, while others question the origins and authenticity of it. The point is the myriad of beliefs doesn't exile you from worshiping or even being a leader. Though our differences in beliefs we are still able to find commonality and respect for one another. It is in our differences where we become stronger as a community.
Let me leave you with some questions to reflect on:
When was a time you felt judged?
When was a time you judged someone else?
What beliefs do you hold closely to?
Who is someone with different beliefs you would risk talking openly with?
What can you do to share God's love and bring about God's Kingdom?
Next week we will focus on Interpretation of Scripture and how it has hurt others when not used responsibly! This week please talk openly with someone that has a different belief than you. Learn about the person and love them for who they are.
A few years ago, I was asked to be preach as a guest minister at a neighboring Community of Christ congregation. Wanting to energize and be vibrant I prepared a message focused on outreach. Upon arriving, I immediately found out the small congregation had three members pass away within the last few months with the most recent coming two weeks before. The thought maybe what I had prepared was not right for this moment went through my head. Unfortunately, I pushed those thoughts away and went with what I had. Immediately after I preached my sermon, I recall feeling an emptiness knowing that this is not what these people needed. I knew I had missed the opportunity to help this group grieve together. I was unwilling to be to be relevant in the moment. In looking back I should have stopped the service right then and there and led a time of sharing focused on the lives of those that went before us. These people were hurting and needed time to love one another and dwell in their pain together.
This experience comes to mind when I think about why some people stop attending church. Relevance! When churches aren't relevant to the needs of the people they become disposable. The needs of the people refer to those both inside and especially outside of the church, meaning those in the community.
You may be someone that is searching for relevance in a church or exploring what that is for your life. This may be different from person to person however the searching is what's important. When we search for relevant ways in which God can be involved in our lives we encounter the divine.
Below I have three ways to search for relevance in our spiritual lives.
Relevance Through Authentic Relationships
Relationships matter! It is through others where we connect with God and allow ourselves to love. Real and authentic relationships make us feel affirmed because we are accepted for who we are. Real and Authentic relationships value and hold up the worth of others. Real and authentic relationships throw away facades, status, and all other titles to see a person as a beloved child of God.
Who do you have a real and authentic relationship with? Who really knows you? How can you share more of yourself with others? This is hard! It takes courage! It's something I still am learning how to do. Seeking approval and status keeps us walking in circles but being real takes us further down the road of self-discovery. Assess your relationships this week and identify how you can be more authentic.
Relevance Through Engagement
Relevance can also come from engaging your community. This can come from being an active voice for those who do not have one or providing a service that positively impacts those around you. Many find purpose in giving themselves in ways that contribute to others success. When churches are active outside their own walls the gospel suddenly becomes more real and relevant. Lewis Center for Church Leadership gives 50 ideas of how churches can engage their community. Click here to check it out. Engage your community! Search and learn about your city. What are the needs? Who doesn't have a voice that needs to be heard? Where are injustices happening that need to be resolved? What small part can you play in your community?
Relevance Through Christ
Sacrificial love exemplified by Christ is the paramount of relevance. I believe there is nothing more relevant or touching in our lives than sacrificial love. In asking who was Jesus and what did he do, we get an assortment of answers ultimately leading us to live out a life of love. Jesus life was all about loving others all the way through to his death. It is in Jesus where God's love is shown. I have met a variety of people with various levels of Christology or views of Christ and all of them can find some sort of connection to Jesus and the message he lived. So take time to answer the question who was Jesus, what did he do, and why does it matter to you?
Some of you searching may be struggling with these questions already because you have been taught various things about Jesus growing up only to now start asking the deeper questions. This may have produced shame for questioning these beliefs or you may have been rebuked when trying to answer them with others. Here questioning is valued and an important part of our spiritual journey. One question that comes to mind is what does it mean for Jesus to be both Human and Divine? I don't have all the answers but just maybe we can figure them out together. I hope through your questioning you can find relevance in the life of Jesus, because in Jesus there is love.
Thank you for all those following along! Continue to follow us on instagram or twitter to know when we put out a new post. This week learn about your community. Find out the good, the bad, and the ugly and then just let that information dwell. Hopefully as it dwells discernment will come to how you can be a positive influence to those around you.
Many years ago I attended a Reunion (church family camp) as a Graceland Representative. Graceland University sends out representatives to Community of Christ camps throughout the summer in hopes of recruiting youth to their University. The last night of camp, I was asked to join the Sr. High youth at a campfire led by two other adults. As the campfire progressed you could start to feel the spirit moving in the moment. The adults asked the youth if any would like to be administered to.
Sacrament of Administration
Administration is a sacrament in the Community of Christ in which two ministers anoint the head of the individual with a small amount of oil and lay their hands on the persons head to pray for them. It is a prayer asking for the healing spirit of God to bless the individual in whatever way that person needs.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
It's important to note that healing comes in many ways and does not always mean a miraculous physical healing will take place. In fact many times that is not the case. If you are interested in learning more about the other sacraments of the Community of Christ please click here.
The Rest of the Story
Two youth were prayed for and a third stepped forward to sit in the chair. As youth gathered around the two leaders motioned me to the middle asked me to administer to the girl. I was a newly ordained minister at the time making me a little nervous at the sudden request. But I moved with the spirit and allowed it to breathe in the moment. The girls head was anointed and I prayed for her. I remember feeling like these words were not might own as well as an overwhelming feeling of peace. She was moved to tears by the experience and shortly after the campfire was ended. It was in our camp closing service the next day where she stood up to share. She spoke of the night before and said, "When I was being prayed for, I felt like God was stitching my heart back together." She went onto say how she felt peace over her life. Her testimony confirmed to me God was moving in the moment and I just happened to be the vessel for which God used.
Moving Power of God
I think the experience I was apart of shows how God can move in powerful ways. When we intentionally allow God to breathe in our lives, we make room for God to love. This young girl had some sort of pain in her life. I do not know what that was but I do know that night she felt loved and in that love, the pain, shame, or guilt stood no chance. God's love trumps the human emotions we put on ourselves from the daily situations we find ourselves in. God is continually saying you are of worth and you are loved! We are all on various paths in this chaotic world, but wherever you find yourself please tell yourself that you have worth!
Missio Dei is a latin term referring to the "mission of God" or "sending of God". I believe the Mission of God is to love, to make whole, to provide hope, and to engage others in knowing there worth. Leading Congregations in Mission created this video which I want to share with you. I love how it says, "It's a moving mission of discovery, healing, and hope. An agenda of significance to all those who answer yes to the call to serve." I think this video will give a good understanding of how our spirituality cannot be separated from our daily lives. Its a never ending journey of discovery and serving those around us.
When have you needed your heart stitched back together?
How have you been a vessel for God's love?
When have you allowed God to breathe in your life?
How have you been a part of the mission of God?
This week let the spirit move through you in the places you find yourself. Do something nice for someone else that you do not know. You may just be the stitch that the person needs. Our small group is meeting this week, so those interested please submit the contact us and hopefully you can join us.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.