What are we doing? - Willimon's comments

In his one of his closing lectures in our Systematic Theology class, Dr. William Abraham emplored us to "talk about God." We Methodists/"Mainliners", he said, spend lots of time talking about ourselves, or about spiritual techniques, or about oppression and social action, or even about "langauge about God" - but so often we shy away from direct focus on the One that actually is the reason and the source for all the other good things. We are the Church because of God and nothing else. Now, what Dr. Abraham said may be more true of the seminary than of the church, but I wonder if he isn't on to something here.

Bishop Will Willimon, former Dean of Duke Chapel and current Methodist bishop of Northern Alabama (and in my humble opinion an exemplary bishop) gets at this same issue on his blog : it turns out that growing churches are those that actually connect people to God! What people actually want from church, according to studies that Willimon cites, is something specifically religious: to be connected with God. Imagine that?!

Some argue that the church isn't relevent if it fails to appeal to and incorporate the lastest intellectual trends or pop-cultural fads, speaking the right lingo or drapping our worship in the latest trappings. I've got to say (as you might have already gathered) that I am skeptical about the health of this attitude. I think first and foremost we must worship God and learn to be awed by the Good News of what God has done in Jesus Christ and is doing by the Spirit.

I like this story Bishop Willimon tells because it rings so true of Methodists, how it seems we sometimes focuse on the details so as to miss (or almost miss) the whole point of things:

Halford Luccock, that great teacher and preacher, told the story of the Methodist congregation, somewhere in the remote Dakotas, who suffered a severe blizzard one winter. The snow was high. Even the mail did not get through for a week. That meant that the pastor and congregation had no clue what was the denominational emphasis for that week. They did not if know this Sunday in February was United Nations Sunday, or the Festival of the Christian Home Sunday, or what. So, said Luccock, the pastor strode embarrassed before the congregation that Sunday and said that, "In the absence of any other reason for gathering today, we'll just worship God."

So, how about your church? Is God the reason? Are people being connected with God? Or can most of the stuff that happens basically get by without much interaction with him?



Blogger Mary said...

I'm going to brag about my senior pastor Ross Olivier. For the past 20 weeks he has been talking about God. I am very lucky to serve under such a great minister and theologian. If our liturgy doesn't point directly to God in a way that the average congregant can understand, it gets scrapped for something more vibrant. While I love traditional liturgy - Methodist or otherwise, under Ross' guidance I have become more critical as to why we worship the way we do. Are we doing it because the lectionary calendar says we should or do we do it because it is a vital part of worship? Sometimes it can be both and sometimes it can't. I've learned that a symbol of a vibrant worshiping congregation is one that can discern the difference. I encourage everyone to listen to Ross' sermons at www.gallowayumc.org. While you may not be able to see the whole of the liturgy, Ross' philosophy of worship comes through in his sermons.

Reading your thoughts on "talking about God" made me think about what I've learned in the few short weeks I've been in Jackson. Thanks for writing and pointing us to writings about issues that should keep Christians thinking.


11:12 PM, November 04, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I think if our liturgy doesn't point to God in a way that the average congregant understands, then we need to better educate our congregants.


I'm glad you are having a good experience thus far!

2:46 PM, November 05, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Which is to say (I don't want to sound like a smart-alec from what I said above) - it is very difficult to appreciate a liturgy that one doesn't understand. Rather than just tossing out anything that isn't immediately accessible to people who come from a pagan culture, or modeling what we do in worship to reflect what people do in that culture, we should educate about what we do and why we do it. This will contribute to the total formation of individuals as they grow as disciples - not only will they appreciate the worship experience more (and "get more out of it") but they also will have a much better grounding in theology. Furthermore, as the memorize the liturgy - it will be continuously available to them as a source on which to draw.

3:00 PM, November 12, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

It's like learning a ballroom dance. We could just throw our hands up and say "let's don't dance, but rather play cards, since the newcomers already know how to do that" - but it wouldn't be quite so much like dancing, would it? (to mis-quote Mr. Bingley)

3:02 PM, November 12, 2007  

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