Posts Tagged With: Holy Spirit

Insights into the Election of a Bishop, Part Two: “The Presence of God Revealed in Unlikely Ways”

Part Two: “The Presence of God Revealed in Unlikely Ways”

This blog is mainly a “Missional Church” blog with helpful insights and conversations about how congregations can deepen their understanding and participation in God’s mission. However, the next few posts will be more personal. I believe them to be beneficial for the broader church, but for different reasons. You decide for yourselves.

Here’s the situation: I was recently a “middle of the pack” nominee for the office of bishop in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). I’m sharing the journey of that process with you from the inside. I hope you find it beneficial at whatever level you are open. You can catch up by reading Part One here.

Because of the way the bishop election was set up, my name, photo, and biographical information (resume), along with the 16 other pre-nominees, were quite public for more than two months before the actual election process in April. The rationale was to give voting members plenty of time to review information on potential candidates and to come to the assembly prepared to nominate and vote in successive ballots.

In the meantime, I had informed my congregation council of these events and possible ramifications. They were supportive, asked appropriate questions, and agreed to keep this confidential ntil such time as we could agree on the most appropriate way to inform the congregation. We decided that a congregation-wide email, written by me, would go out in the next few days. That would be followed up by verbal explanation by me on the following Sunday during worship. My fear was that the congregation would somehow receive this news as a desire on my part to leave them—which couldn’t be further from the truth. The congregation, however, was characteristically supportive and promised to keep this election process—and me—in prayer.

On another front, many conversations among fellow clergy-types included the list of seventeen potential candidates. There was a lot of evaluation, a lot of questions, and a lot of critique. Motives were guessed at and qualifications examined. This began as a time of severe self-consciousness for me. I felt as if I needed to remain quiet among colleagues lest it appear I was somehow campaigning for this office. At the same time I wanted to remain authentic and speak among them of those things about which I have knowledge and passion. It was a difficult and tension-filled balancing act.

In the midst of balancing this fear and tension God broke through in a couple of impressive ways. The first involved my daughter, who for medical and other reasons had left college before graduating a couple of years earlier. She came over to the house one evening and announced to my wife and me that she had applied, and had been accepted, to return to college. She told me that if I could enter into this bishop process in spite of my terror, she could face whatever issues might come her way and complete her degree. As a self-proclaimed education snob, I was beyond grateful. I was thrilled. I was delighted. If I had the skill and agility, I would have danced. Even if this was all that came out of this whole “bishop thing” (as my family and I now called it), that was more than enough.

 

The second thing God did was exorcise a personal demon in my life. All of the old torments from Junior High that I thought I had dealt with long ago had been resuscitated in this process. Irrational fear and self-consciousness that I thought had been put to death had merely been covered over. Now that I was more or less forced to deal with the vulnerability that accompanied being one of the seventeen potential nominees for bishop, God took the opportunity to rid me of many of those fears. As I dealt with my paralyzing terror of ridicule, mockery, and snickering, I became aware of how much influence those things still had in my life. I also became aware of how their hold on me was disappearing. I can only explain the liberation I was experiencing as an exorcism. The demon of fear was being cast out of me. I was being set free. This was a biblical experience in the most profound sense of the term. It was deeply spiritual. The crucified and risen Jesus had come, found me in my terror-bound captivity, and set me free.

 

A member of my congregation asked me, a couple of week before the synod assembly, what was going on with me. My preaching, this person said, now has a further power and clarity that wasn’t there before. My only explanation was that death and resurrection are real. I was experiencing it. Again, if this is what came out of the “bishop thing,” I would be more than grateful. I was, for the first time, content in the chaos and weirdness of this pre-election process. Let the synod assembly come. Whatever happened would be fine with me. The outcome of the election of our new bishop in some ways no longer mattered to me. There was no pride at stake if I wasn’t actually nominated and no anxiety if I was actually elected. It wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about me. It was about God continuing to reveal God’s self in some strange and wonderful ways. There was peace. My yoke was now easy. My burden was now light.

 

I was ready for anything at the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly. I fully expected the Spirit of God to be at work, even through the church! Which will be the focus in Part Three.

 

Categories: american christianity, religious, rostered leaders, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What is the Holy Spirit Saying? In Our Context, . . .

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23

 We began and are ending this Sabbath Year of Listening to God on the  3rd great festival day of the church, the Day of Pentecost. This is appropriate, and on purpose. On Pentecost, the Spirit of God comes, speaks, and acts. The disciples are waiting, listening, and preparing to follow. The church engaged the world in new and Spirit-led ways.

During our Sabbath Year, the Spirit of God has come, spoken, and acted among us. We’ve waited, listened, and are ready to follow. We too will engage the world in new and Spirit-led ways. The Day of Pentecost is our day, the church’s day, LCM’s day. After a year of listening and waiting, we can boldly move forward as Christ’s church with the confidence that we are following the Holy Spirit.

But what is the Holy Spirit saying? In both these narratives of the coming of the Spirit there are descriptions of some powerful, out-of-the-ordinary events.

On the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, there was the sound like the rush of a violent wind, then tongues of fire appeared over each disciple gathered. Peter spoke intelligently (there’s a sign if there ever was one). All the disciples spoke in other real-world languages.

In the gospel of John, the resurrected Jesus comes and appears to the disciples who were gathered in a locked room. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them.

It would be hard to ignore fire on your head. It would be difficult to not be impressed by your best friend rising from the dead and appearing inside a locked room with you. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had that assurance like in Acts: wind, fire, and languages? Wouldn’t it be assuring if the resurrected Jesus suddenly appeared with us here? Wouldn’t it be easy to follow then? Wouldn’t we go forth boldly, with confidence then? Yeah, those first disciples had it so easy . . .

Big signs and wonders like that—neon signs in the sky, if you will—generally don’t have the effect we think they will. In Acts, some simply wrote this all off as a bunch of drunken Galileans. In John, Thomas missed out and refused to believe a word of it until Jesus met his expectations.

We Christians are often cautious people. We don’t want to act or speak in God’s name unless we’re very sure it’s actually God. So we tend to stay quiet or do little. Because, like those early disciples, we can excuse even the most obvious sign as serious drinking (Acts) or wishful thinking (John).

It comes down to trust. We do what we can to understand the Holy Spirit’s activity and voice in our midst, then we plunge in. It’s always been that way, and it still is.

We’ve spent more than a year deliberately listening, seeking to understand God’s voice. We’ve prayed, discussed, and listened some more. 55 weeks now. This is no fly-by-night whim. It’s been over a year of daily, serious, intentional, faithful, and honest prayer. We can be confident that the Holy Spirit has been moving among us. We can act, trusting God is behind us, in front of us, and within us.

There are the themes that have emerged:

First, that we’ve been blessed by God with a time of rejuvenation. We’ve been able to renew spiritually by soaking in the presence of the Holy Spirit for a year without any pressure to accomplish any new tasks.

Second, affirming that the direction we’ve been moving as a congregation is led by God.

Nothing radically new or different. God has been leading us all along, we’ve been responsive to that leading all along, and we’ve had this year to have that affirmed so that we can continue this course with confidence.

God also seems to be letting us know that this year of listening needs to continue. It needs to be a way of life for us. All the workshops, the events, the opportunities, the teaching, the sharing all need to continue. Just ‘cause the Sabbath Year is coming to and end doesn’t mean that our listening is ending.

Third, spiritual growth in two areas has emerged from your listening that involve all of us, and all our ministries: Discipleship and Caring

Many ministries and individuals fall onto one side or the other. We’re hearing that God’s call is for these to overlap much more than they currently are.

More than abstract knowledge about God and generic believing in Jesus,

More than acting on every good idea that comes along whether it’s God’s call to us or not,

God is calling us to make sure we’re doing both: that our faith leads us know God well enough to be able to follow Jesus into the world so that our caring actions are part of what God is actually doing.

Fourth, stronger encouragement for ministries and ministry leaders.

we are being called to make it amazingly easy to begin new ministries—the current applications can be intimidating, the month of waiting for approval can be discouraging. So we’re thinking that anyone who believes a new ministry should be started should be able to do so—immediately. What’s forming is a plan to be able to talk to any council member and go. The council will find ways to back you, help you, and support you. If there prove to be some difficulties, that council member will talk with you about them, but the important thing is that ministry happens, not that forms get filled out.

And we also need to recognize that some ministries will complete their purpose. Not every ministry is a forever ministry. We don’t need to artificially prop them up. We can celebrate completed ministries and rejoice in their success as they finish.

Finally, two issues seem to be emerging that get in our way:

Communication and cooperation. They overlap significantly, but are different.

We need to become more intentional about our communication: both giving and receiving. More venues, more planning, more deliberateness, more completeness. We’ve got to make sure all information is readily available to all. That requires a different kind of energy and focus.

That being said, all of us have to seek to find out what’s happening. All the information in the world won’t matter if we aren’t listening.

Coinciding with that a bit is the issue of cooperation. We can no longer go about ministry in separate silos, independent of one another.

We tend to focus on tasks. But we are more than a bunch of people who accomplish separate tasks. We are a congregation, woven together.

Rather than merely accomplishing tasks in our separate ministry silos, we need to recognize that we are part of a ministry web—what one ministry does affects other ministries. So we have to be asking, “How do I involve more people in this? How can I partner with other ministries on this?” We can’t see that as inconvenient, but rather the work of the Spirit!

Rejuvenation,

Affirmation,

Discipleship and Caring,

Encouraging New Ministries,

Communicating and Cooperating.

The Holy Spirit on this Pentecost Day has come, is speaking, and is acting. Now we’re ready to follow. Come, Holy Spirit.

Categories: Church in Context, Church in Transition, Sermon | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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