In-Sight: Reclaiming the Gold

     As I look back upon my 42 years as an Elder in The United Methodist Church and my 32 years as a professor in theological education, I do so with great joy, appreciation, and a deep sense of having lived vocationally.  But with (hopefully) the wisdom of years and the perspective of recollection, I see some things which I now believe to be impediments to the realization of the Kingdom.  The ones I want to mention here are all outgrowths of good things.  But I believe they are nevertheless “dross” that needs to be further burned away so the “gold” of God’s will can be seen more clearly.
     The first impediment is the professionalism of the clergy.  This creates an active/passive relationship between pastor and people.  It erodes the priesthood of all believers.  We need to support an historic view of the priesthood–a person who guards and guides the flock (historically called ‘the cure of souls’), who conducts worship (that includes proclamation and eucharist), and who cares for the sick and the dying.  Laity (including, where needed, some paid staff) should do everything else. By assigning too many responsibilities to clergy, we have put unrealistic expectations on them, but worse, we have lost the pervasive “life together” which God wants to occur in the Body of Christ as every member is active in ministry.
     A second impediment is the complexification of the Gospel.  Author Thomas Moore (The Care of the Soul) coined the word “complexification” to describe the Fall–the egoic tendency to take current reality and allegedly “improve it” (the ultimate expression being an ‘improved’ world that doesn’t need God).  In terms of the Church, we have “complexified” the faith by making the content of it largely the domain of the academy and “expert” theologians who (by formal education) are “qualified” to produce theology.  This is a far cry from the group of apostles who gathered to receive the Great  Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) and to design the follow up to Pentecost (Acts 2:41 ff).  We need to restore catechesis (basic theological training) in the congregation and support devoted laity as they “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.”  Making theology appear to be an academic enterprise for specialists further enforces the active/passive mentality in the Body of Christ, and robs the Church of laity-generated theological conversation–which would result in a deeper, broader, and richer theology.
     A third impediment is embracing a “come to” mentality rather than a “go to” mentality.  We need places to gather for corporate worship, but beyond that, some of the additional space is not strictly necessary.  And in a growing number of cases, it puts great financial pressures on congregations just to stay open.  I realize how “optional” big buildings are as I travel outside the USA and fellowship with Christians in simple locations.  But more than structures is the misplaced spirit that building envy creates.  The place for education is in the home, and the place for service is in the world.  Our Christianity is not ultimately defined by the positions we occupy in the church, but by the mission we embrace beyond its walls.  Even as we preserve and (more wisely) construct future church spaces, we must “reverse the flow” and make disciples (a “go to” concept), not just members (a “come to” concept)–men and women who understand that we gather to scatter, and who consecrate themselves accordingly.
    As folks in the Old West used to say, “There’s gold in them thar hills.”  There is gold in the Gospel, but it is time for us to burn away the dross and remove the tarnish, so we can truly sing, “Shine, Jesus, Shine!”   

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books.
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3 Responses to In-Sight: Reclaiming the Gold

  1. Shelley says:

    Wow! I am so very inspired by your insightful, and so very accurate, thoughts regarding our call to serve Christ. THANK YOU – Pastor Steve, as you continue to be a bright shining light and a source of encouragement to all of us!

  2. Rachel Howard says:

    Right on point, as usual. I could not have said it better, although to be honest I feel as though the thoughts were plucked right out of my own brain! Thank you Steve for sharing your wisdom with us.

  3. Steven Williams says:

    Perfectly stated. I pray perfectly heard

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