Friday, June 22, 2007

Extreme Church: Extreme Expectations

When I was elected to General and Jurisdictional Conference, one of the things I received even before I left Annual Conference was a handout on delegate reflection/preparation, which I thought was a nice idea.

Apparently, the theme of the 2008 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference is Extreme Church: Extreme Expectations. The scripture focus is Ephesians 3:17-20, from Eugene Peterson's The Message version:

"Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us."

The handout gives some questions for reflection:

How have you experience God in the extreme - for yourself? In your church?

What might it mean for the UMC to "reach out and experience the breadth," "test the length," "plumb the depths," "rise to the heights" of Christ's love?

What might it mean for individuals and for the Church to believe fully that God can indeed do anything? What would we entrust to God if that were true? How might our listening for God and to God change?

How will we as delegates be open to the Spirit working "deeply and gently within us?" How in particular will we invite God's Spirit to be at work in our preparation and in our Conferencing?

What will we do, both before Conference and during Conference, to "plant our feet firmly on love?"

I like that the worship team (creators of the document) are really trying to encourage some reflection and deep thinking before the event. Of course, too often, General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference is completely wrapped up in taking sides, winning, and making sure your point wins in every issue, and that your candidate gets through for everything - Judicial Council, boards and agencies, Bishop, you name it. Even still, and even though I am typically skeptical and sarcastic about so many things in life, I refuse to throw in the towel and give up hope for these major conferencing events in the denomination. I was certainly wide-eyed and innocent to how bad it could be when I went to General Conference 2000 - I certainly don't have that ignorance anymore. But I'm still hopeful for the church. If we don't have any hope for the church than we really might as well just throw in the towel and not bother pretending.

Can the church change? Or perhaps we're asking can the church still be/start being the church again? Can the church survive? Is there hope? I don't think these questions are over-dramatic. I think the church is having an identity crisis, because lots of people are trying to define what the church is and what the church is about. Is the church about the same good news that Jesus was trying to share in the first century? I hope so. I wish so. I hear these questions for reflection asking about risk-taking. We've stopped being willing to take risks as a church. We can still "plant our feet firmly on love" while taking risks as the body of Christ.

Do you have hope for the church? What is your hope?


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