I was thinking...
Looking back and looking ahead is an interesting balance. Looking back should inform the looking ahead. I am grateful that my rear-view mirror is small compared to my windshield…a great metaphor for life and for ministry. When looking back is larger than looking ahead, there rises the potential for frustration and a cycle of analysis that can paralyze the most well intended church community.
During these days of pandemic and live stream worship, with in-person worship slowly coming back into focus, it is important to keep the rear-view mirror and the windshield in proper perspective. Looking back should inform looking ahead, however, in our present context, looking back could prove not as helpful. Why? Because our world has changed. To look back at facts that no longer have bearing is a crook of the neck that potentially brings little focus for the road ahead.
I celebrate the value of my past, but as an Easter believer, I always believe the best days are ahead…maybe you do too. I am grateful for those who have invested in my life and who have been used by God to help shape me, but if I don’t return the favor and invest in others and offer myself as an instrument of God’s in the shaping of others, then I have wasted what has been done on my behalf. I have been a poor steward of my life.
I had an awakening one day during my prayer time around the turn of the century. I awoke to the fact that the United Methodist Church does NOT have as much a theological issue as it has and continues to wrestle with an ecclesiological issue. Theologically, we believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and all the power found therein. Where we often miss the boat is in our misunderstanding of our ecclesiology, the purpose of the church. We tend to forget the meaning of our vows of discipleship as we offer our complete commitment to a particular church community. We forget that at that very moment church becomes no longer about us. It instantly and forever becomes about others. The church is about reaching the lost, broken, and hopeless with the good news of a God that loves so much that this God would offer an only child as a gift of salvation for the world. The church is not a place just for family gatherings and the celebrating of traditions. It is an instrument to win the world to hope.
Jesus said it in so many ways but what often rings in my mind and heart are his words recorded in Luke 6 when he’s talking about forgiveness, “…give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (v. 38 NRSV)
Years ago, the church gave courageously and generously when it spoke into the issue of slavery. It was not a pleasant topic of discussion for many and there was division in the church, in the country and in the world. I’m grateful the church spoke up and spoke out. Many of my southern ancestors would not agree. If they were alive and kicking, there might be some kicking going on at the Thanksgiving table. Yet, I believe the voice of the church is critical to its purpose. Knowing when to speak, what to speak and how to speak is the challenge. This is a challenge that can only be conquered when assisted by the wind of the Holy Spirit at work in our individual lives, our church community and in our world community.
Look back, but only for an instant, because what lies ahead is where our work is located. It has been my experience that the church communities that have small rear-view mirrors and large windshields are the ones that are best in touch with their calling and their purpose.
How about your church? Is the rear-view mirror small or large? Is your community of faith exciting and thriving or is it lingering in a paralysis of analysis? I know there is a desire for all churches to excite and to thrive. Give and it shall be given back…
The Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton
Executive Assistant to the Bishop