Come & See, Sit & Stay, Go & Share

The United Methodist Church, in some areas of the denomination, are freaking out over the decline of membership and participation. I get it. It is concerning to those of us who have our have become dependent on a paycheck from worshiping communities.

There are many who have suggestions on what is needed for a church to "turn around" participation and engagement. Of those suggestions, the idea of having a "discipleship path" has gained a lot of traction. A discipleship path is just a technical name of describing how a local church helps guide people into deeper relationship with Christ. There is much to be desired when talking about a discipleship path. Making a disciple is not like making a car on an assembly line, but there are many who are doing good work on this effort. 

After looking over several different discipleship paths, it seems that they are built on a common pattern - 1) Come and See, 2) Sit and Stay, 3) Go and Share.

The point in sharing this is that if you find yourself looking for a way to grow deeper in relationship with Christ, I submit this pattern:

  1. Come and See - Jesus is calling you to see things that require you to leave your comfort zone (examples: worship, service with others, study, etc.)  
  2. Sit and Stay - Once we arrive, it is important to sit and stay. As Abba Moses said, "Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you all that you need to know." (examples: meditation, prayer, discernment, etc.)
  3. Go and Share - If we do not share with others then our spiritual formation is nothing but self-help (examples: teaching, evangelism, service with others, etc.)


Stop Taking Time

When you attend a clergy session, there is a lot of talk about the need for self care. There are many expressions of self care, but they all are framed the same way. Take time for prayer. Take time to study. Take time to rest. Take time for vacation. Take time for Sabbath. 

We are encouraged to "take time" - which I think might be part of the problem.

"Taking time" assumes that time is zero-sum. If we take time from one area (sermon prep) then we will have less time in another area (pastoral care). The idea of "taking time" assumes that if we don't take it then we will never get it - if we don't take time for prayer then prayer will not happen. "Taking time" gives us the impression that if we only were better at taking time then life would be better. 

Of course, "taking time" is a metaphor. One cannot literally take time like you can take a cookie from the jar, and when we try to take time, we come up short. Rather than using the metaphor of "taking" time, I would remind you that Christianity offers a different metaphor - receiving time. 

Time is a gift that we receive. Time is a gift that we trust will be present when we need it. Time is a gift that we can receive, but we can never take.

When we receive time, time is no longer zero-sum. When we receive time we understand that when we are doing one thing, there will be enough time for other things.

Shifting or metaphor from "taking" to "receiving" is not just semantics, it is a part of our spiritual formation. It is part of the reason I do not take communion

Quadrilateral Egg/Chicken Dilemma

In some parts of the global church there is a thing called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The quadrilateral is a way of talking about four sources that are used in the pursuit of Truth. Those four sources are Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. 

There are many ways to visually describe the quadrilateral which you can see with a google image search. Some people talk about all four sources as equal in weight, while others talk about Scripture being heavier than the other three. The debate between if Scripture is "heavier" is not as heated of a subject as how much heavier is Scripture. Are we a Sola Scriptura or a Prima Scriptura people? 

The element that I have not heard in this conversation is the Chicken/Egg Dilemma inherent in the quadrilateral. Here is what I am talking about:

If we take Scripture as first and primary, that is well and good. However, Scripture did not fall from the sky. Scripture is what it is because a particular Tradition won out over time. That is to say, the Biblical canon is what it is in the UMC because of the tradition of Martin Luther not the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. With the chicken/egg metaphor, Scripture could be the chicken and Tradition could be the egg. 

Tradition was also not created out of thin air. Tradition comes out of a lived experience that reveals what is valued by the person(s) generating the Tradition. Luther had experiences that led him to believe that some books of his Bible were not canon-worthy (we call those the deuterocanonical books). In this thinking, Tradition could be the chicken and Experience could be the egg. 

We can't forget that a person's Experiences receive meaning through the filter of that person's own Reason. For instance, Luther did not think that books like Hebrews or Revelation should be in the canon because his Reason argued that they were not in his understanding of the Christian Tradition to be considered Scripture. Here, Experience could be the chicken and Reason the egg. 

Finally, the role of Reason filtered out stories and experiences that were not "of God" to a community as far back as oral Tradition - thus dictating what stories were told and ultimately having a chance at being Scripture. Is Reason the chicken and Tradition the egg? How does scripture fit into this analogy?

And we are back at Scripture.

Currently some in the UMC are debating the role of Scripture. Some sections of the UMC cannot tolerate anything on equal grounds as Scripture (example). I am not saying that anything should be. Here's a question worth pondering: Does the insistence of Scripture as "heavier" results in a dismissal of "lighter" sources? Maybe making the sources more equal does not result in taking Scripture lighter, but understands the Egg/Chicken dilemma.