A Report from the Front Lines of Mission
The following is my religion column for Friday's issue of the Tribune & Georgian.
I am writing from Anaheim, California. I came to this town, better known as the home of Mickey Mouse and the rest of the Disney characters, to serve in The General Convention of The Episcopal Church. If you attend a church that is part of a denomination, rather than an independent congregation, then your church has one of these immense meetings as well. While this report from a meeting of Episcopalians might not seem quite so relevant to my Southern Baptist, United Methodist and other friends, our common interest in proclaiming our faith in Jesus Christ is why I am writing.
I am rather fond of saying that I don’t like organized religion, but that it beats disorganized religion. Attending days of committee meetings, hearings and legislative sessions, all lasting from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. for 11 days in a row would tax this theory as much as anything I know.
Being in a denomination also puts a congregation and its members in a large family. Like any large family, there will be relatives to whom you wish you weren’t related. I won’t hold y’all accountable for all the people and statements made by those in your denomination, and I hope that y’all will trust me as a fellow Christian and do the same when it comes to my Episcopal family. Know that we believe Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life and that we seek to worship and serve him as our Lord.
Yet, here I sit on one of the front lines of the mission of the Kingdom of God. Yes, I know that the real mission of those who follow Jesus is to reach out to a lost and hurting world. Our task in following Jesus is to share the good news of the love of God to the outcast, lost and lonely. And our job is to feed the hungry, visit those in prison, and to do those other tangible acts of love that make real the love we feel for our neighbors in response to the love we have for God.
With all that said, it is within denominations that we find the resources to carry out these ministries. Many non-denominational churches do find ways to be about mission both in Camden County and around the world. Often the scope of this work is astounding. But the abilities of tens of thousands of churches banded together open the doors to forwarding the Gospel and its ministries in ways not possible for an individual congregation. Look back at the tremendous work accomplished by Baptist missionaries as a result of the many congregations who supported that effort and you see what I mean.
So here at the General Convention, the 1,000 church leaders setting the budget for our denomination for the coming three years are on the front lines of mission. The budget is the tool we use to combine our efforts in mission. As we set our priorities for how we spend our dollars, we set our priorities for carrying out the ministries to which we feel God has called us.
Times are tight for our denomination and I will bet that finances are tight in your church’s larger family as well. Truth be told, the times are almost certainly challenging for your congregation too. It’s the shrinking finances of local congregations that tighten the purse strings of denominations.
Just as with city and county governments who can do any and all programs in times of growth, but must set new priorities when the economy slackens, so too with churches. Now is the time when we as denominations and congregations must set our priorities anew. With fewer dollars to spend, we have to decide, of the many good things we can do and should support, which we will actually support financially.
I am convinced that God has not called us to do less, when times are tight, but to do more. Our friends and neighbors are more in need than ever. Ask your pastor. He or she has been dealing with more and more of your neighbors in need of assistance for food, housing, and so on. Camden County has lots of hurting people. Our neighbors need us. And because of the slow down in economic growth, our great non-profit groups are suffering as well. Just ask Camden House or Habitat for Humanity of Camden County or Missions for Camden. They need your time and money now more than ever.
Here I sit in California, deciding later today on many budget matters for my denomination. It is the front line of mission work. There you sit in Camden County needing to decide how you will spend the ten percent of your household’s money that is your tithe to God. You too are on the front line of mission. The decisions you make in your own finances and in the finances of your congregation will say more about what you believe about God than any statement of faith could ever accomplish. In fact, in many ways that matter, your checkbook and your calendar are your own personal statement of faith. What will you do in the coming week to advance the kingdom of God using these tools of time and money which God has so graciously given you?
Labels: The General Convention