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COMMENTARY: Letting God work through us Karen Greenwaldt, Mar 3, 2011
By Karen Greenwaldt Special Contributor
Editor’s Note: This is the first in monthly series of columns from staff of the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship, on issues faced by church leaders.
Is it possible for the church to be renewed? Yes!
While it is easy to engage in conversation about how we are failing as a church, Rosamund and Ben Zander tell us in The Art of Possibility (Penguin, 2002) to avoid “downward spiral conversations.” These negative conversations do not help us as a church unless they guide us to redirect our efforts in positive ways. Conversations that serve only to reinforce or create entrenched positions function to defeat our spirits and to foster negativity within our church.
True, it is hard to disengage from negative conversations, and I confess that I have participated in many. Yet, I truly believe that it is possible for the church to be renewed. In fact, I believe that renewal is occurring right now.
My optimism comes from seeing all sizes and types of churches living out John Wesley’s admonition to engage in acts of vital piety and social holiness. Young people are embracing the church’s ministry with hope and expectation as they enter pastoral leadership or take lay leadership positions in local churches. Hope comes from assurance found in reading these words from Isaiah 43:16-19 (NIV):
This is what the LORD says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters . . .
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland . . .
The church is being renewed when we place its mission at the center of our lives. When we focus on the mission of the church—making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world—not as a tired cliché but as a powerful instrument, we remember our roles as Christians in this world.
Our mission reminds us that membership in the church is not our goal. Nor are discreet outreach efforts that only make us feel better. Our mission empowers us to learn what Jesus did and how he lived in order to follow his example into all of the places where we live and work.
Our mission clearly links how we are growing as communities of committed believers and followers of Jesus and how we are witnessing to discipleship in our everyday lives. When we see ourselves as God’s agents in the church and in the world, miraculous renewal occurs—not by our own doing but by God’s activity through us.
Recently on a cold wintry night, a young woman checked on an older neighbor who had not been seen that day. The neighbor lives in the shadow of the young woman’s local church but is not a member.
When she arrived at the man’s home, she realized that something was wrong. The newspaper was on the porch, and no lights were on in the house. However, the man’s voice could be heard when she rang the doorbell. She called emergency responders who discovered that he had fallen.
When asked, “Why did you go out on a cold night to check on this neighbor?” the woman replied, “I’ve learned in church that we must care for our neighbors. I was worried, and I prayed for him. Then I decided that wasn’t enough, so I went to check on him.” Months later, this neighbor came to worship and made a profession of faith.
The church is being renewed when it stands as a beacon to God and to the glorious work that God is doing in the world to connect people to the Spirit’s powerful presence. The church moves strongly into the future when powerful worship and learning about the Christian faith sends us out across the world to take on the principalities and powers that seek to destroy. The church is being transformed when it experiments with how to reach new people for the sake of the gospel.
The church is being renewed, and not by itself alone. When the church remembers its mission and when it throws itself on the mercy and deliverance of God, transformation takes place. God is doing a new thing, and we are God’s co-workers (1 Corinthians 3:9).
We can sense creative energy among the many United Methodists who pay attention to the church’s mission, follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and seek each day the wisdom of God who actively is at work in the world and in the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Greenwaldt is the top executive of the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.