Too often, we simply don’t stop to ask questions, to examine our lives.
We do things without thinking about the consequences or implications.
We do it because we always have.
We do it because everyone else is.
We do it because it seems like the best option in the moment.
And we do it in ministry, too.
An unexamined life is not worth living (Plato, quoting Socrates)
Well, maybe, unexamined ministry is not worth doing.
We should always be mindful of the implications of our words and actions.
We should take time to pause, reflect, and see if we really are acting according to our values and goals.
I really started thinking about this after having a dialogue with Rev. Bill Cotton on Monday of this week. We were out at Taproot Garden for “Organic Ministry.” One of the big themes of our classes is that we need to pay attention… to the soil, to the water, to the microorganisms, to the weeds, to everything! It’s all related. And what happens to one has implications to everything else.
One of our guides for “Organic Ministry,” Tim Diebel, shared with us the nautical terming “kedging.” When you run aground with your boat, it is a method for getting back to where you want to be. You throw or take your anchor to where you actually WANT to be, and then you winch yourself there. Taking time to examine your life (ministry) is like asking if we have gone off course and tossing the anchor into deeper waters.
The next morning, I sat down with a congregation member who is concerned about the potential addition of lazer tag to our nearby UMC camp. As she paused to reflect upon values and goals, she is troubled that in a culture of so much violence, so many deaths of children via firearms (7 every day), as we prepare for a day of praying for peace and the end of gun violence as a conference, we want to install a recreational option at camp where we give kids toy weapons to point at each other for fun. And her words hit me like a ton of bricks. We had taken our youth to play lazer tag at a local business and hadn’t even paused to wonder about the underlying messages, the glorification of violence… it was simply for fun. We just didn’t think about it.
So we are now talking about the values of our ministry and whether or not this type of activity is in line with the ends God has in mind for us.
Then, in Covenant Bible Study, we were exploring Paul’s writings to the Corinthians and I kept running into the idea that freedom means everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. The only way we can live into the freedom of Christ is to ask, in every situation, if what I’m doing is beneficial for myself AND for the community/world.
So here are four questions that I want to start incorporating into “an examen for ministry” in my church.
Could this be a bridge?
Is this ministry/event/class for insiders of the church only? What are the possibilities for transforming it into a “bridge event”? There are so many things we do as a church without every imagining they could be bridges for us to go to the community or the community to come to us. For example: we have a Veteran’s lunch coming up: we have always done this special lunch after church for our veterans to thank them for their service. What would happen if we sent invites to local American Legion or VFW groups and invited them to come for a free meal so we could stay thank-you?
Who could this impact?
Who could this ministry/event/class impact? How do we reach them? What would it look like if every ministry in the church asked this question? If they thought outside their current make-up to share what they have experienced with others? We get so comfortable with our groups we often don’t think to expand. Or maybe we do, but we neglect asking how to reach them. We need to be reminded that what we are doing isn’t reaching them… or they would be there. Do we change how we promote something? Do we change the event itself – day, time, format? For example: we have a monthly senior fellowship that hasn’t been able to get newly retired folks to attend. One of the realities is some of these newly retired are the children of active attenders! We are starting to imagine how the event might need to change so all feel welcome.
Does this fall within our vision frame?
We have been using a tool called a vision frame this past year. Does this support/enhance our vision and mission? Is it in line with the core values of our church? Is it part of our strategy? Will it help us to reach the measures we have set? Our mission at Immanuel UMC is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our vision: In Christ, live lives of love, service, and prayer. Our core values: hospitality, caring community, stewardship, missional outreach, worship/music, and growing in discipleship. Our strategy and measures include the goals we set at charge conference. This one seems fairly obvious… but how often don’t we stop to ask the question. This frame allows us to truly zoom in on our calling from God in this time and place… and it means we won’t do some things so that we can do these things well. This next year, our two main areas of focus will be children and seniors and it means we will shift away resources and attention from other things for this season.
What kind of world does this create?
What kind of world/community does this event/ministry/class create or support? What are the implications for the neighborhood; for the generations that follow; for the world? And this question asks us to think long term about the consequences of any particular ministry. One of the tensions of ministry is that what might be needed in the short term isn’t always what is best for the long term. Asking this question allows us to weigh options as we seek God’s future. It invites us to think about the values of the world we are implicitly supporting by our actions or inactions. As United Methodists, we have social principles and resolutions because we believe that we can and should have an impact on the world. The conversation we have begun about lazer tag as staff is one example of how we are starting to wrestle with this question.
What questions would you add to this examen?