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Saturday, February 20, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Corinthians 3-4

I spent all day yesterday attending a church vitality event in Long Beach, CA. I had the opportunity to sit in three sessions led by Rev. Anthony Robinson from the Seattle area.

Since the issue we were discussing was congregational vitality, we spent some time looking at issues that arise in troubled (or non-vital) congregations. And wouldn’t you know it – one of the resources he frequently turned to was the book of 1 Corinthians.

Paul’s words to the community in Corinth were helpful because he did two things in his letter that we can still learn from 2,000 years later. First, he identified some of the ways a community gets off track. And second, he identified the way vital faith communities should act.

In today’s passage, Paul wrote one sentence in particular that captured the essence of my entire approach to ministry. That sentence reads: “God’s way is not a matter of mere talk; it’s an empowered life.”

The first half of that statement points to a challenge to the lay persons in our community. It’s easy, for instance, for lay folks to slide into a critical mode and simply talk about what’s happening in the community. It’s much easier to respond to things by simply telling others what the community should be doing and then walk away – expecting others to carry through the project for you. A truly healthy community doesn’t allow an individual to get away with that. A healthy community would expect folks to step up to the plate and actively be a part of addressing the concern.

Which leads to the second half of the equation – the spiritual leader(s) of the community.

Lots of spiritual leaders will complain about lay people who don’t do enough. That complaint isn’t really accurate. What they really mean is that the lay people aren’t doing enough of what the pastor is telling them to do.

Paul isn’t an advocate of this approach at all – at least not in today’s passage. Instead, Paul talks about people living an “empowered life”. This means our spiritual leaders must shift gears and invite lay folks into the process of addressing concerns in truly meaningful ways. Instead of telling them what to do, for instance, a leader should begin by asking them what they feel God is calling them to do. Once that is identified, a pastor’s task is all about empowering the individuals so she/he can go forth and actually lead the ministry themselves.

In both cases (whether from a lay or clergy perspective), one thing is clear. Living a life of faith wasn’t meant to be a spectator sport. It’s all about discerning God’s call (as opposed to simply doing what you want!), developing those skills to follow one’s call in community, and then using those acquired skills to carry out one’s call.

Perhaps there is a project that you believe is crucial that is not happening in your world. Maybe you’ve ever grown a little angry or bitter because that project has not yet been realized. If that’s the case, stand up – walk to your bathroom mirror – and glance at the person you see standing before you. Chances are looking at the person God has called to move things forward.

Til next time…

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