Monday, August 09, 2004

Nuts and Bolts

The day broke earlier and brighter this morning, and we were off to our first heavy schedule of classes and training. To be honest, we are all ready for it. Time to get to the nuts and bolts of being missionaries!

Rev. John Nuessle, from the General Board of Global Ministries, led the morning session, and gave us a crash course in the organization of the United Methodist Church. After explaining the role of the different kinds of “conferences,” he then turned his attention to the Board itself.

Let’s face it – GBGM has gone through some tough years recently. Not only has there been financial strain and organizational reshuffling, but there has been an internal church debate over the usefulness and effectiveness of the Board. In many ways, the Board has borne the brunt of the ongoing liberal-conservative hostility in the church. There are those who complain that the Board is “out-of-touch” with the local church, and others who whine that the Board is too bureaucratic, or too liberal, or too socially-minded, or too this and that. In many ways, GBGM is an easy target for anyone who has a complaint about “the way things are.”

Rev. Nuessle had a simple way to explain the Board’s role and existence – it is simply the Missions Committee of the denomination! Just like the Mission Committee of the local church, it exists to train and deploy people in mission around the world! Just like the Mission Committee in your church, it has to choose projects, find leaders, and hold garage sales to raise funds! Just like the Mission Committee in your church, it stumbles in and out of doing successful ministry.

In reality, the Board has four clear goals: 1) to make disciples of Jesus Christ; 2) to strengthen, develop and renew Christian congregations and communities; 3) to alleviate human suffering; and 4) to seek justice, freedom, and peace.

I can sign on to those four goals; I believe this is a good summary of the goals of any disciple, in any place and time! What else is there to work for?

In the afternoon session, Mark Masters led us through basic anthropological insights for missionaries, including discussions about culture and Christianity. He introduced the distinction between “essentials” and “negotiables” which is always a difficult task for the missionary. We broke into small groups and debated whether items in a list of Christian customs and practices were “essential” to the church in every time and place, or whether they were culture-bound, and therefore, “negotiable.” Leah and I were grouped with B.J. and R.C., both of whom, have experience in Africa, and our discussion got rather lively!

I discovered that I have a very small-core faith, meaning that, in the end, I hold to very few “essentials.” I recognize that so much of what we believe is culturally-determined, so I’d rather err on the side of clarity and simplicity. I guess it also means that I have a kind of simple faith.

In my last parish, the leaders of the church and I formulated a nifty summary of everything we believe. This slogan – or “statement of faith,” if you will – became the benediction of every worship service. And I still think it stands as a core definition of the essentials of Christian faith.

It is my benediction tonight, as I prepare for bed … “God loves you, Jesus Christ forgives you, the Holy Spirit will change you.”

Good night, Rachel, Chloe, and Mallory. Amen!