SPECIAL TO THE CALDWELL JOURNAL (September 8, 2017 by Rev. Caren Bigelow Morgan)…I was 28 years old when I learned to drive a standard (manual) transmission. I was really, really bad at it, too. I popped the clutch too fast, I ground the gears, etc. Yet, with perseverance and dedication, I finally mastered the art of driving a stick shift. Now, I love it. It gives me so much more control over the vehicle!
Well, friends, our mainline Protestant churches have been coasting along on cruise control for so long, that we’ve forgotten how to drive the gospel and reach the people God intends for us to love and care for. We are at a place in the 21st century where we have to shift or wreck! In his book, Shift: Helping Congregations Back into the Game of Effective Ministry, Phil Maynard teaches us how to shift gradually and consistently as we try to get back into the driver’s seat.
The first shift is FROM FELLOWSHIP TO HOSPITALITY. Every church thinks it is friendly, because everyone who goes there has friends to be friendly with! Strangers may not find the environment so cordial. “The biblical tradition of hospitality was focused on welcoming the stranger…Not only did Jesus urge his followers to generously welcome those in need, but he also promised that these acts of kindness were personally experienced by the Son of Man himself (Matthew 25).” It’s not just about us!!! We are called to put the needs of others above our own! We are called to put the focus on God’s grace, not our personalities. It’s all about the relationships we build and maintain in the Body of Christ. Our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, and our relationship to the world are all a crucial part of growing in grace and into the likeness of Christ. “This relational dimension is the engine that drives our witness in the community and world, our worship as the body of Christ, and our growth in maturity as disciples of Jesus Christ.” (quotes from Shift, p. 15)
With all the divisiveness in our world today, someone has to start the change. Jesus was a change agent and he calls his disciples to be change agents in our world. What if we moved from fellowship with the people we already know and love into gracious hospitality with those we don’t know, those who are not in our circle of friends, those who are very different from us, those who might need us, those who might hate us, those who are “other” to us? Can we make the shift? Even if our clutches pop and our gears grind, we’ll still be moving in the right direction!