12 April, 2014

Why am I a Christian?

As I was personalizing my new office laptop, I found this little gem in my Dropbox this morning. I believe it dates back to my days at Christian Theological Seminary when I was asked by a professor to write an explanation of:
  • why I am Christian,
  • why do I belong to my denomination, and
  • how do I see ministry as relevant to the first two. 

I believe these words are, for the most part, still true of me today.  How would you respond to these questions?

Here's my response from 1997.

Why am I a Christian?
I claim "Christian" as my identity because I am a follower of the ways and teachings of Jesus. A reason for my belief can't be determined by any rational thinking process. Some would say such a belief is a miracle! And I agree! I did not choose to believe in God; God chose me. I am a Christian because it was the love of Christ that found me and turned me away from other paths. I am a Christian because it was the message of God's saving grace that strangely warmed my heart. And I am a Christian because the Spirit has tugged, guided and comforted me along my journey. There is no reason or rationality to my faith. Nor do I feel the need for any. Faith is not of reason and rationality; faith is of God.

Why not some other "Brand" of Christianity?  Though initially by chance, I am a protestant by choice. I was drawn into the church because it was a great babysitting tool for my mother. There were two churches in town, a Roman Catholic and a Congregational; the latter was closer to home and my nine siblings and I could walk home after being deposited there each Sunday morning. In late elementary and junior high school, I attended the Catholic church with school buddies (peer pressure!). While I found the mass fascinating with its "smells and bells," the catechism classes (where the nuns dreaded my questions and, more, my responses to theirs) were stifling and the over all attitude was demeaning and patronizing. Even at that young age, I could not comprehend how I could ever live under such mind-numbing rules and regulations set forth by someone in Boston or in Italy! Only when, at age 16, I studied the Reformation in baptismal/confirmation classes at the Congregational church did I begin to understand the implications of what I felt earlier. I chose to be baptized into the church where I felt encouraged to explore and think through the issues of faith, question things -- even God -- and read and study scripture in light of experience and culture. I am still a protestant today for the same reasons.

I am a member of the United Church of Christ also by choice. There are the practical issues; no bishop to move me around, local church autonomy, my husband and in-laws are all U.C.C. clergy. But from a faith perspective, I belong to the U.C.C. because among the denominations and "non-denominational churches" I've experienced, it is the only place that most closely lives out my understanding of the Church. First is it's unifying goal. The basis of union declared that the purpose of church union comes from Christ's words, "that they may all be one."  All means everyone; the church is intentionally inclusive of all varieties and flavors of Christians. Individuality is accepted and honored. Yet all are one; community and diversity are celebrated. While Synods and Conference meetings may not seem very unifying, we still celebrate our oneness in Christ...even when that's all we can agree on! Christians in this era must accept the diversity amongst us, accept that God is present differently amongst us, and stop trying to prove the other is wrong - or we will die. Second, it is in the U.C.C. that the prophetic proclamation of the Gospel is heard and carried out. Justice and peace are not just catch words that sound good; they are the mission of the denomination; they are also what we disagree the most about! But is that not the nature of any faith stand? Where two or three people are gathered, there will be three or four opinions! But we can agree that Christ calls us to do something! Unity and diversity, proclamation and prophesy call me into the United Church of Christ.

Unity and diversity, proclamation and prophesy are integral parts of every Christian's ministry. I believe that God equips the Church Universal with all the gifts needed to make, nurture, and grow disciples. No one person, congregation or even denomination has all the gifts; but each congregation is a part of the body of Christ and is equipped for ministry where it is planted. The challenge for each congregation is to continually re-assess what the congregation is called and equipped to do, what the needs of the community in which they are planted are, and how the congregation's gifted-ness can be used to meet those needs while making and nurturing new disciples for Christ.

Ministry is sending out growing disciples who seek to live their lives as Jesus lived his; bringing in God's reign in all the earth. Ministry happens in many different forms and shapes. Common to all ministries, however is that at it's core, each strives to make and nurture disciples. Over time, the Church has lost this emphasis. As we enter a new millennium, we need to reclaim Jesus' command to be "witnesses in all of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Disciples. A person of faith never stops growing. The word "disciple" means one who learns, one who listens. When a person chooses to be baptized or confirmed, that person is choosing to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus who learns and listens and who never stops growing in faith. When we stop growing, we die. When we learn, we grow, and we are changed. When any living thing stops changing, it dies. A seed is planted. It germinates, sprouts, absorbs water and sunlight, grows, blooms, and bears fruit and seed. If it stops growing and changing in the life cycle, it would die. Disciples are the same. We are nurtured to grow and bear fruit and plant new seeds of faith. We don't do these things as payment for anything. We do them in gratitude for what God has already done for us.

Nurturing. Most churches are very good at nurturing one another if by nurturing we mean helping one another feel good about ourselves. In a disciple-making setting, however, nurturing takes on a deeper meaning. To nurture disciples means to meet people where ever they are, listen to and seek to understand their life-stories, and move them forward on a faith journey. Nurturing disciples means protecting and advocating for them when necessary. Nurturing disciples is glorifying God by loving and caring for them and leading them in ways that help them grow in faith. Jesus called this nurturing "mother henning" (Matt. 23:37).

Sending out. Jesus' ministry was not just to his disciples and followers. He reached out to all he met, and even went out of his way to meet some. He taught, healed, debated, and comforted. He spoke to the injustices He encountered. He included even the outcast and the unlovable. And He told the disciples to be His witnesses in all of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1"8). So as disciples, we must go out from the faith community and do as Jesus did: heal, comfort, teach, debate, include, and speak against injustice. When God's reign is complete, all of creation will be included.

Ministry is the work of every Christian. Each of us has God-given gifts and passions. Each of us is called to develop those gifts and use them to glorify God and build up the body of Christ. All Christians are ministers.

As a pastor, I am one called out to nurture disciples, enable leaders, and to model ministry. I am the vision-caster, coach, cheerleader, hand-holder, and teacher all rolled into one. I am called to use my gifts and passions to grow and nurture disciples who will make and nurture disciples. I am a gardener who prepares the soil, plants the seeds, nurtures, fertilizes, prunes, weeds, and celebrates the fruit and harvest in the garden of faith.

Liturgically speaking, I am called and ordained to be a pastor and teacher. I proclaim the Good News and lift up the meaning, relevance, and importance of God's Word in our everyday lives. I am comfortable leading and preaching in traditional worship; I am energized by contemporary worship. I am the conductor of the orchestra where each voice is lifted and celebrated in harmony with one another.