I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,
if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received
from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Converging Paths Ministry
Some of this message you will have heard before, or at least parts of it. Amidst all the necessary and meaningful introspection of the Lenten season, one of the blessings is knowing we have the promises of spring and renewal and the true Easter to look forward to. And this year that includes a new ministry. We are calling this new ministry the “Converging Paths Ministry.” We also hear and talk about “The Convergent Church” and “Convergence Christianity.” They are not the same thing – though, as is often true in real life, there are numerous connections. But today I want to tell you about the Converging Paths Ministry.
CONVERGING PATHS MINISTRY
What is converging? For openers, and on the surface: There is now a partnership – I hope it is a covenant – between The New Church, Countryside Community Church (a congregation of dedicated and devoted Christians in Omaha of which I am a minister), and the BTS Center (the remnant – as in the honored biblical concept of “a remnant shall remain” – of Bangor Theological Seminary). I keep telling them that “BTS” stands for “By The Spirit.” But they have little reason to listen to me, and an even smaller possibility of comprehending what that phrase conjures up in my mind when I use it.
All three of the entities I just mentioned have contemplated it, prayed about it, and voted to be part of it. The BTS Center has brought and promised generous financial support for the next five years. I have put my whole life “on the line” – myself, my family, and my ministry in Port Townsend – to move to Omaha. Countryside has invested considerable time, energy, and money to make room for me and The New Church, and to be a welcoming community and more-than-adequate facility for this new Converging Paths Ministry.
As wonderful, and perhaps surprising, as this all is, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Other things, harder to see or define, are also converging. What we are beginning to call “The Paths of Luke, Lydia, and Paul” are calling to us. They represent ways that Christians have served Christ and the body of Christ in the world for as far back as our history goes. We suspect that these Paths need to be remembered and honored and walked again, as the body of Christ moves into the storms and challenges and opportunities of our present time. At least some of us suspect that these Paths of faithful ministry need themselves to converge in a far more conscious and appreciative partnership than they usually have in recent times.
PAUL represents the role of the ordained clergy. LYDIA represents the role of those who are effective in the trades and professions of the world around us, but who secretly or openly work for Jesus far more than for success or prominence in this world. LUKE represents those who are retired or otherwise already secure financially and who, newly awakened to the presence of
Jesus and God’s Kingdom, want to dedicate the rest of their energy and resources to furthering Jesus’ ministry on earth. They often try to discover, as Luke did, where this is happening most authentically, and then they do what they can to support and enhance those who are engaged in such ministry.
Some of us hope that these Paths will increasingly recognize each other, honor each other, and work together in conscious partnership together. They always have, to some degree. Paul, Luke, and Lydia were awesome teammates in New Testament times. But the connections and the trust-levels have often been badly muted in our time. Some of us suspect that the “adjustment” may need to begin with a new look at the Path of Paul. Today we have a lot of Pauls who are actually on Lydia’s path. As is so often true, half of both is neither. But scratch that for the moment. The secret of Paul’s Path is not in his ordination, though that is what we are focused on in most Christian organizations today. Paul was indeed ordained, by the Church at Antioch. They laid hands on him and on Barnabas and sent them off on the first missionary journey. This is significant, but it is not the true center of Paul’s Path. Paul’s life and Path were illuminated and guided by his en¬counter with the Holy Spirit on the road to Damascus. It was not of human origin, as Paul claimed and insisted. If we have courage enough to see it and believe it, it changes everything we know or understand about the Path of Paul. And if that is true of Paul’s Path, is it not also true in some fashion for the Path of Lydia and for the Path of Luke?
But I have us off track and future-tripping in regard to the Converging Paths Ministry. It needs to go there, but not until we are ready – and not until the Spirit takes us there.
What else is converging? I accepted a “call” from Countryside to come and be the Minister of Lay Ministries. On my side, that means there is a converging of several purposes dear to my heart.
One such purpose is increasing numbers of Christians awakening – becoming aware that the Holy Spirit is “calling” them to special tasks and purposes. It is the whole realm of what we call “vocatio.” The institutional church has convinced most of its members that the essence of the Christian Life is about what people do in their spare time, with their spare money, and with other spare resources. It is one of the reasons the institutional church is in so much trouble across the land. We mouth the words: Christianity is a Way of Life. But it is really true. The Holy Spirit wants it all – all of you and me, and all of the time.
Why is the institutional church in such decline? Have we been abandoned by the Spirit? Not entirely, of course. Love does not work that way. But in many ways I think the Spirit has said to the institutional church: “If you want to do it your way, go ahead. I am not here to bless you or your way. Your way cannot work. You are supposed to be coming with ME: coming into my WAY. But you refuse to listen. So have it your own way. I will be waiting. Call me when you get serious.”
Converging with concepts of vocation is the concept of a Disciple Band. As you all know, a Disciple Band is not just study; it is prayer, getting to know each other, and learning how to support and love each other. A Disciple Band is a group of Christians (usually eight to twelve, without being rigid about it) who intentionally explore, share, and support and love each other in the hope that they can each learn more and more how to walk the Christian Way – how to live the New Life in Christ Jesus.
Fifty-seven years ago, Roy Pearson (Dean of Andover Newton Theological School at the time) was teaching a class on the practical aspects of church life. He brought some members of a Bible Study Group from his former parish in Lexington, Massachusetts to tell us what being in this Bible Study Group had meant to them. I was what Eric Elnes would call “thunderstruck.” Eric hadn’t been born yet, but had he been, that is what he would have called it. These people were “on fire” with their faith, with their love for Jesus, and with their love for each other. It was the missing piece I was looking for. It was what I wanted, and what I wanted for the people in the churches I served (though I wasn’t ordained yet, never mind being called to a church).
Small Groups are an “in thing” now. That has not been the case through most of the past fifty years. And now that Small Groups are popular – as always happens when things get popular – a good many of them are a far cry from what I mean by a Disciple Band.
Anyway, and as you know, for over fifty-five years Disciple Bands have been the heart and core of the churches I have served. From these groups have come (with some notable exceptions) the people who renewed the church. (I seem always to have been called to churches that were fading away or in some kind of major controversy). From these groups have come new church members. People from these groups are the ones who picked up the boards and committees and brought them back to life. They are the ones who turned deficit budgets into viable support for the church’s ministry. They often took flak and anger from the so-called “old guard.” Twice (in different churches) I was officially forbidden by the Church Council to hold Bible Study Groups. I could go on, but you get the picture.
So now I am here, trying to juggle responsibilities for The New Church, for Countryside, and for the Converging Paths Ministry. Clearly I am in over my head. I cannot do this alone. I need a lot of help. So where do you think I will turn? Naturally I have to turn to the Spirit. If the Spirit is not with us, nothing we do will matter in the least anyway. And what does the Spirit whisper to me?
Translated into English, it sounds like this: “There will be all kinds of advice, pressure, temptations, and well-meaning people trying to get you to base this new ministry on the approaches and techniques of corporate America. Humans can get together and devise intelligent schemes for making things ‘work.’ Most of them will be impatient for results, and most of them do not really trust my presence or my influence. Some of their ways will work, or seem to work, in the short-run. But if you want to serve ME, and if you want to help people to find the Kingdom – you will have to trust ME, and you will have to rely on things Jesus already taught you.”
Of course, I have long since concluded that Disciple Bands are not a human gimmick, but a pattern that Jesus developed and handed to us. The twelve disciples were not an accident. And I am convinced that Jesus spent a lot more time intentionally training and teaching the twelve than is immediately obvious from a casual study of the Gospels. If it had not been for the twelve, none of us would ever have heard about any of it. I am convinced that being in a Disciple Band is an organic part of the New Way of Life. We need the support and caring of an intentional group of brothers and sisters who are “on the Way” with us, or we will not get very far or stay very focused in our Christian journey. Maybe that is not true for you. It is most certainly true for me, and it has proved true over and over in my life so far.
So as you know, I am starting with Disciple Bands. It is a place of convergence for all three of my responsibilities. Only, it has to be for real. No gimmicks, no fast cures, no smooth tricks or techniques will help for long. The Christian Life is serious business, and there is no cheating or faking with it. I say this because sometimes there are even some people who want to use Disciple Bands as a technique, a way to “fix” things, a program to achieve some ends or purposes they have in mind.
A true Disciple Band is dedicated to living the Christian Life. The bonds don’t form right – and the guidance of the Holy Spirit cannot inspire us or go on converting us – if that is not our primary purpose. My best hope for help in designing and forming the Converging Paths Ministry is in the prayers and support of Disciple Bands. But they first have to become true Disciple Bands.
So if you are already in a Disciple Band – and nearly half the members of The New Church are – you have some choices. Maybe your whole group will decide to participate in the discussions about the Paths of Luke, Lydia, and Paul when we are ready to have them. (There will be more information on that as things develop.) More likely, you are busy with your own agenda, but you might be able to join one of the new groups and be the liaison between them and your group. And as mentioned, your prayers are vital. The guidance you receive from the Spirit, as individuals and in your Disciple Band, will enhance the efforts of us all.
And if you are not yet in a Disciple Band, what is holding you back?
Even if no Disciple Bands (new or already established) decide to help with the Converging Paths Ministry, Disciple Bands will still be a great blessing to those who participate in them. Huge. Many will get deeper on the Path than they have ever been before. Some will find their true calling – their vocation – and go for it. And many will find a love, a support, and an awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit beyond what they have ever trusted before.
Peace & Love,