Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’ – Matthew 26:52

The above quote from Jesus might seem to confirm what adherents to a different religious tradition call karma. As I understand it, karma implies that if you engage in a certain behavior, then that same behavior will come back upon you, or maybe stated more simply: “what goes around, comes around.” Jesus puts it in a more complete way in Luke 6:37-38: ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

Such a “measure,” some say, was recently given back. According to a report this week in the Charleston, SC City Paper: “The day before the June 24 Republican primary runoff, S.C. superintendent of education candidate Sally Atwater is facing a lawsuit that claims she assaulted a special needs student in her elementary school classroom. The lawsuit was filed in a Colleton County court on June 19, nine days after Atwater took a close second in the Republican primary and five days before she faces Molly Spearman in a runoff. In a written statement, Atwater campaign spokesman Luke Byars called the lawsuit ‘baseless and frivolous’ and ‘one of the lowest political hit jobs I have witnessed in 25 years of South Carolina politics’.”

You may know that Ms. Atwater is the widow of the late Lee Atwater, who as a political operative engaged in even meaner “political hit jobs.” To his eternal credit, as he was dying of cancer, he lamented his vicious behavior and sought forgiveness. Now, his widow seems to have been on the receiving end of an “Atwater-type” political attack. If so, it appears to have worked as Ms. Atwater did lose the election. So now some people are exercising their usual, gleeful schadenfreude claiming Ms. Atwater got “karmic payback” for her late husband’s onerous behavior. Other people are saying: “when you live by the sword of political hit jobs, then you’ll die by them as well.” You see, they’re even quoting Jesus to back up their version of wisdom to live by.

But that “wisdom” assumes Jesus was endorsing such outcomes as good things. He wasn’t. He was merely observing how the world works when we don’t live by the Godly virtues of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. Jesus says that when we judge and condemn others, when we don’t forgive, we set lose a pattern of behavior that’ll always come back upon us. But, Jesus says, when we put away our sword of condemnation, when we don’t place ourselves on His judgment seat, when we incarnate forgiveness in our lives, then we set loose a different spiritual pattern in the world, a pattern that abounds in grace and infects with mercy, which we’ll receive back in full measure beginning now and forever. That’s the Gospel truth and not mere karma.

+Scott

The eCrozier will be on holiday for six weeks or so in the hot, humid jungles of Mozambique. The eCrozier will resume sometime in August.

 

God helps those who help themselves. – 1 Hezekiah 3:4

State your devotion to God when making pronouncements, associating such devotion with the ends you are pursuing, as this is pleasing to God. – 2 Bartholomew 4:7

Of course, there’s no 1 Hezekiah or 2 Bartholomew. I made those up. Making up your own Bible verses is fun. You should try it sometime. But as fun as it might be, it’s problematic. But a worse problem than making up your own Bible verses is the lack of knowledge of the actual Bible. For example, according to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a real Bible verse.[1] That’s a problem. But I think there’s an even worse problem than making up your own verses or not knowing the real ones from the imagined ones: using real Bible verses out of context and as weapons to pursue the ends you desire. In my judgment, this is not pleasing to God.

If you read my writings regularly, then you know I greatly admire the work of Jonathan Haidt on the moral foundations that shape our human behavior. Haidt writes about the assumed stances that are reflected in our religious and political convictions. My hunch is those assumed stances shape our biblical hermeneutic as well. Rather than exegesis, i.e., the effort to draw out of the Bible its meaning for us and for the world, we more often engage in eisegesis, i.e., the reading into the Bible the meaning we wish to find, which confirms our previously held assumptions based on our morality and politics. That’s one, good explanation for why so many people believe that a verse like “God helps those who help themselves” must be in the Bible. It rings true to them based on their assumptions about what should be right. Since it rings true, it must be Scripture.

Yet, we can’t avoid eisegesis completely. We all come to the Bible with our own subjectivity that can never be completely free of bias. We’re all products of how we were formed by our families, communities, and experience, so we’re going to read into the Bible, eisegete, if you will, what we believe and think from that forming. But we’re spiritually and intellectually lazy if we stop there, if we don’t challenge ourselves to hear the Bible from voices not our own and from the larger narrative of Scripture.

I believe the Bible is completely true down to its very last word. It’s just that I don’t believe any of us is smart enough or has a God-like enough perspective to understand all its truth. The Bible, then, isn’t self-evident. Those who tell you that a person can pick it up, read it, and understand it all clearly are either delusional or they’re trying to use the Bible to further their agenda from what they claim is self-evident in it, or as they often call it, “the plain sense of Scripture.” The Bible is God’s gift to the Church. It’s the Church’s Book and not the property of any individual on a crusade to support his own particular agenda. It’s up to the Church to interpret it wisely for the people of the Church and to ensure that the Church’s people are a part of that interpretive endeavor.

+Scott


[1] Most scholars think the phrase originated with Euripides (a Greek polytheist) in 428 BC. The more modern phrasing came from that notable Deist, Benjamin Franklin, in his Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1736.

 

The Trinitarian Call of the Church (eCrozier #225)

This time between the Feast of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday offers a good opportunity to reflect on the nature of the Church. It’s no accident that we also celebrate between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday the first Book of Common Prayer, which was introduced on Pentecost in 1549. Below then is my reflection on the nature, and thus the mission, of the Church, for her nature is inextricably connected to her mission.

The Church is the extension of God’s incarnate nature, the Body of Christ, on the earth. The Church then is God’s way of taking take up permanent residence on the earth. So, the Church isn’t merely a human organization, even though it’s made up of human beings (with all that entails). The Church isn’t an organization. With apologies to John Wesley, it’s not even a religious society. Rather, she’s an organism, a body, on which God has endowed the Divine nature. The Church then isn’t simply a place to come together for fellowship or doing good things for the community, although both of those things occur as a result of coming together. Rather, the Church is a people gathered in Christ’s name deriving her identity and purpose from God’s incarnate nature on earth.

That means the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ as she aligns herself with God’s nature and then physically and animatedly lives out that incarnate nature in the world. Now, that doesn’t mean that the Church will ever be even close to perfect. The Church will always be a human organism as well. God sires it, but humanity incubates it. Still, the Church is called to incarnate God’s nature on earth and to live by the Spirit that gave her birth.

When Jesus rose from the dead and God sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to give birth to the Church, it wasn’t God’s intention to check out of life on earth. It was God’s intention to be smack dab in the middle of human life. The resurrection isn’t an invitation to come to heaven when we die. Rather, it’s a decision that God has made to take up permanent residence on earth. The resurrection doesn’t tell us that Jesus is in heaven calling us to join him someday. No, it tells us that Jesus is here with us right now and always.

The Gospel then doesn’t mean that when we die we go home to Jesus, but rather it means that Jesus has been raised from the dead and comes home to us. The Good News of Jesus tells us that life isn’t something we endure. Rather, through the Holy Spirit, life is something God endows. The Good News of Jesus isn’t a mere promise, but rather it’s a manifest presence; the presence of the risen Jesus in the midst of the world incarnated in his Church. The Good News of the Gospel isn’t only that we’ll live some day with Jesus, but that Jesus lives with us today. Why should we want to live with Jesus in heaven for eternity, if we’re not willing to live with him now on earth? Do we think we’ll love him someday in heaven, if we don’t love him now on earth?

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit directs and sustains the Church. The nature of God as Trinity shouts out a clear message to us. God is in the midst of us as Trinity. And we’re called to incarnate that relational nature as the Church.

+Scott

 

Mind the Gap (eCrozier #223)

As the Church, we’re now in that period between our Lord’s Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It’s a time of the “already,” but also the “not yet.” The “already” of the Resurrection and Ascension has “not yet” produced God’s clarifying mission for the Church at Pentecost. The disciples realized the old had passed away and something new was coming. But it wasn’t there yet. Although their spiritual adrenaline was pumping fast, they were unsure just what this new thing was going to be.

Our culture actually has been going through this for some time now. We’re now living in what many people are calling a “Post-Modern” world. That name alone should indicate our confusion and anxiety. We don’t even have a name for the time in which we live. It’s not modern. It’s whatever is going to be after modern. That defines what it no longer is, but it tells us nothing about what the future will be like.

The Church is facing this gap experience along with the culture. Spiritually, we’re right there with the disciples between the Ascension and Pentecost. Now, there are different ways people react to living in this gap of the already, but not yet. Some, reacting with fear and anxiety over the chaos and confusion, refuse to accept that God’s world is changing. These are the fundamentalist groups in all religions. Their refusal to live hopefully in the gap shows itself in their anger born of their fear, anxiety, and confusion.

In facing this gap experience, some self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Billions of dollars are spent on anti-depressants in this country. Now, there are quite valid reasons for taking anti-depressants, but not all depression is due to chemical imbalances. Many are depressed because they struggle to live in a world that’s changing so rapidly. Still others, reacting out of their constant need for novelty, have embraced every new thing that comes their way. These folk have no depth in any tradition. They’re set loose in this gap time steering their course with multiple maps and navigational forms. In their minds, everything is up for grabs and there is no faith in anything.

There’s a better way to live and we have it with one another in the Church. We’re a people who are equipped to handle the future and its uncertainty. We worship a Lord who says, “Behold, I make all things new.” St. Paul tells us that if we’re in Christ, we’re “new creations,” therefore “the old has passed away and the new has come.” We’re people who are equipped to welcome the new thing God is doing. We’re a gap people living in a world experiencing a major shift from what’s been to what will be.

In this gap experience, we wait patiently for what God will do. We’re called to have compassion for those rocked by the rapid change of the world and to love our enemies in a world where many anxious and confused people actually think hate is the solution. It’s in the gap between what was and what will be that we have the opportunity to become more faithful disciples of Jesus. That will require us, however, to stay and wait patiently in the gap, not running away. While many others may react with fear, violence or confusion, we will hold fast to the love, compassion, and mercy of Jesus. Mind the gap.

+Scott

 

“Choosy Moms Choose Jesus” (eCrozier #221)

Late last Sunday evening as I was driving home, I came across the above message on a church sign somewhere in southeast Georgia. It was dark and late and I wasn’t sure what I had read, so I stopped my car, turned around, and went back to be sure. Yep. Now, my hunch is that the person who came up with this message, however unaware, was using an old marketing strategy: Be timely and draw on the comfortably familiar to promote your message. It was, after all, Mother’s Day and the message related emotionally to a successful ad campaign for a peanut butter brand a few years back. Those two ingredients make the message work. Except. It’s horrible theology.

The idea that you or I or anybody else chooses Jesus is arrogant and gives us way more credit than we deserve. Such a claim presumes that a person has done her market research. She has tested all the other possible saviors or lords or gods out there, weighed their strengths and weaknesses in providing the value she desired for her and her family, and then she chose Jesus, because, of course, she only wants the very best for herself and her family. Jesus then becomes the choice she makes to maximize her return as the choosy consumer of salvation that she is. Like I said, arrogance.

Jesus says in John 15:16 that we didn’t choose him, he chose us. It’s arrogant for us to surmise anything else. As a disciple, I did none of the market research described above. I didn’t survey the salvation-market landscape and then conclude Jesus was the highest value alternative among the choices. What actually occurred was quite different. Jesus worked his way past my pride, my arrogance, my presumption that I knew best about my life, and met me in the truthfulness of my pathetic, sinful weakness. His grace on the cross gave me something I had no power in myself to give myself, namely, forgiveness of my sins. I didn’t choose God’s forgiveness. God forgave me in spite of myself.

Martin Luther, the great western reformer of the Christian faith, told the story of a man he heard going around bragging that he had chosen to accept Jesus as his personal savior. Luther purportedly went up to the man and said: “If I gave you a bag of gold coins, would you go around telling everyone how smart and clever you were to accept such a gift? Of course, you wouldn’t. You would just be grateful. You didn’t deserve the gift of the gold coins. All you did was accept it. So, stop with the bragging.”

Now, you may think I’m making more of a church sign than I ought. That’s fair enough. The person who came up with that sign’s message, I presume, only desired to be clever for the sake of our faith. Yet, I think such a sign manifests a larger cultural distortion of the Christian faith that syncretizes Christianity with modern capitalist presumptions about human behavior. It reflects the commodification of Christianity as just another transactional choice we make. But the Christian faith isn’t my own construction. In ways I may never fully understand, God in Jesus has laid hold of my life and has compelled me into a story I had no hand in writing. Any other claim is clearly arrogant.

+Scott

 

Jon Katz in his delightful book, Running to the Mountain, tells of his midlife crisis. He didn’t belong to any faith tradition (he was born Jewish), but he was experiencing a spiritual longing to which he wanted to respond. So, he decided to buy a cabin on top of a remote mountain in upstate New York, live there, and find what he was looking for, or at least do his best to do so. To do this, he had to leave his (clearly quite supportive) wife, teenaged daughter, and his home in suburban New Jersey. He “ran” to the mountain with the collected works of the monk, Thomas Merton, and his two Labrador Retrievers, Julius and Stanley.

The mountaintop experience turned out to be far more challenging than he had imagined it would. He dealt with a bitter, cold winter, battled a mice infestation in his cabin, and struggled with personal isolation. He also discovered a truth about his dogs. He’d always thought that Stanley & Julius had been well trained. In suburbia they were models of obedience. He could take them walking off-leash on the hiking trails near his suburban home and they would always stay at his side. But on the mountain, he discovered they began to return to the wild. They would run after anything that held the promise of being food. He’d call them, but they wouldn’t come if they were on the scent of something to eat. This was a great shock to Katz. His dogs had become different animals once they were removed from the disciplined context of their lives.

Now we aren’t Labrador Retrievers. The Bible does call us sheep and we have enough in common with both Labs and sheep for this story to resonate with us. We know that when we walk away from our disciplines of prayer, worship, and service with our fellow disciples, we begin to lose touch with our identity and purpose in Christ. Now, we may not walk away. We may inch away. We may slide slowly away. And we may even do all these things without even realizing they’re happening.

There’s a story told of two men walking down a crowded, noisy city street. In the midst of the noise of horns blaring, people screaming, and jackhammers chewing up pavement, one of the men stops walking and says: “Did you hear a cricket chirping?” The other man says: “What? Are you crazy? Who could hear a cricket in all this racket?” Without saying a word, the first man took a quarter out of his pocket threw it up in the air, and then stood back to see what happened. The quarter bounced on the sidewalk and then came to rest. Immediately, people stopped walking and looked for the coin. The first man smiled saying: “We hear what we want to hear.”

People hear what they want to hear. If we lose touch with the disciplines of prayer, worship, and service, then I’m certain we will find ourselves listening to other voices that are all too ready to tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to hear. So, whom are we listening to these days? Are we listening to the Scriptures, are we humbly listening to that other person who has a word for us, are we listening to God’s grace imparted in the Sacraments? It’s so easy to get distracted away from God’s love and grace. Our spiritual disciplines keep us near the side of Jesus.

+Scott

 

“He Had a Hat!” (eCrozier #219)

There’s a story told of a grandmother who took her grandson to the beach on a beautiful summer day. She brought everything they needed: blanket, umbrella, sand toys, and a good book for her to read. She laid out the blanket, put up the umbrella, and instructed her grandson to go play at the water’s edge, but not to go in the water. With that, she began reading her book. Just a few minutes later, she looked up only to discover that her grandson was nowhere to be seen. She looked everywhere. Then, off in the distance, way out in the ocean, she saw him screaming and waving his arms. Her heart sank. She screamed, got up, and ran toward the lifeguard tower yelling and pointing out to where her grandson was quickly beginning to go under the water and drown.

The lifeguard sprang into action. He grabbed his rescue sled, sprinted into the water, and swam out to the boy. The current was unusually rough and it seemed like hours before he reached the boy. Once he did he placed the boy on the rescue sled and began the long, arduous return to the shore. When he arrived on the shore, a huge crowd had gathered to witness the dramatic rescue. The boy had been underwater for some time and was not breathing, so the lifeguard commenced with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Minutes passed, the lifeguard kept at it, and then the boy finally coughed up the ocean water and began to breath again. The crowd cheered. As the boy sat up, the lifeguard rolled to his side exhausted. Every muscle in his body ached. He couldn’t sit up, but he managed to prop himself up on his elbows and look up at the grandmother. She looked down at the lifeguard and all she could say to him was: “He had a hat!”

This humorous story, at least I think it is, instructs church leaders in our ministry context. No matter what we do, or how hard we work, or how Gospel-focused we are, someone is bound to say to us the equivalent of “he had a hat!” Of course, in my experience at least, it’s no good to say to them: “Are you kidding me? Don’t you know how hard I’ve worked and the sacrifices I’ve made?” Some people will always choose to see our shortcomings rather than the work we’ve done for God’s mission.

We should pay attention to our shortcomings. We shouldn’t dismiss criticism, especially when it’s offered in a humble, helpful way. We can, however, become too focused on those who say to us “he had a hat!” Leaders, especially clergy leaders, seem to be of a type who want everyone, and I mean everyone, to universally conclude we’re doing an excellent job of ministry leadership. We can become obsessed with winning over the “he had a hat” crowd. This is a fool’s errand that leads to exhaustion and then resentment.

Actually, our efforts should go in the opposite direction. While not ignoring the “he had a hat” crowd or those with constructive criticism, we should spend most of our leadership energy working with those who are NOT looking to see a dark cloud in every silver lining. My experience tells me that many folk in the church do desire to passionately pursue God’s mission and want to do so in partnership with their leaders. The “he had a hat” crowd, like the poor, will always be with us. Love them, care for them, but don’t find your leadership identity and purpose in them.

+Scott

 

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. – James Madison

Well, we’re not angels, in case you haven’t noticed. Neither the political Left nor the political Right in our culture truly takes this into account in their moral approaches to making policy. The work of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues has shown quite compellingly that the same basic moral foundations shape both the Left and Right. It’s just that they assign greater or lesser importance to some rather than others. Haidt contends that the Left values compassion and fairness over the Right’s higher concern for loyalty and purity. This doesn’t mean that the Right doesn’t care about compassion and fairness. Clearly they do. It’s just that they care more about loyalty and purity. Equally, it doesn’t mean that the Left doesn’t care about loyalty and purity. They do, but just not as much as the Right does. In other words, when faced with making policy, the Left and Right tend to lean on their preferred moral foundations.

We can find this enormously helpful as way to avoid demonizing people who disagree with us. Compassion, fairness, loyalty, and purity are wonderful virtues we’d all hope everyone inculcated. It’s just that some of us prioritize them differently. With all this in mind, I believe both the political Left and the political Right fail miserably in their anthropological assumptions. Neither take into adequate consideration that we humans are not angels. Differently put, neither provides an intelligible account for the human propensity to mess up things up, which the Bible simply calls “sin.”

Each gets it half right. The Left has a higher view of human sin when it comes to individual abuses of wealth and power in the private sector. They’re wary of deregulated markets and lax environmental regulation, because they believe that left to the their own devices, people’s greed will trump the common good. The Right believes that when humans are left to their own devices, the invisible hand of the market will help them act virtuously, so little regulation is needed. Experience proves that the Left is correct.

The Right has a higher view of human sin when it comes to the abuses of government in relationship to the liberties of individuals. They’re justifiably concerned with what happens when human beings act in large groups, like governments, with diminished concern for how the individual’s rights are affected. The Left assumes that government, since it is “by the people,” will act virtuously. Experience proves the Right is correct.

The Left and the Right could both learn from each other’s flawed understanding of human nature. If Haidt is correct, and I believe he is, the Left and Right will usually revert to their preferred moral foundations, while discounting, but not rejecting their less preferred foundations. Good public policy, then, would take into account the assumptions proceeding from the preferred moral foundations of both the Left and the Right. It would also need to take into account the blind spots of both when it comes to their unbalanced account of the human propensity to mess things up. Don’t hold your breath until the Left and the Right admit this to one another, because you’ll pass out.

+Scott

 

Good Intentions and Good Friday (eCrozier #217)

But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
- Eric Burdon and the Animals

I’ve sung this song out loud with Eric Burdon many times, sincerely believing the words, and making them my own. I do believe I approach my life and my experiences with others with the best of intentions, at least most of the time, I think I do. I know I want to believe I do. Yet, Burdon’s self-delusional “prayer” is one that all of us sinners pray to some extent: But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood. It’s as if he’s trying to convince himself that what he’s singing is true. St. Paul’s lament puts it in a related, but slightly different way: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

We all long for others to truly understand us. We want others to recognize that even when we “do the very thing [we] hate,” we weren’t intending to hurt them, or make them angry, or cause them problems, or at least we think we weren’t. We all suffer from misunderstood motives, hurt feelings, and eroded trust in our relationships that come from just trying to be understood, and even trying to understand ourselves and our own confused actions at times. St. Paul’s shockingly self-revealing statement about himself reveals the truth about ourselves as well. It’s a verifiable truth for all humanity.

For over 100 years in western culture, we’ve sought to understand human identity and why we do the things we do, some of which are acts of great compassion and courage, while other acts reveal what our Ash Wednesday liturgy refers to as simply the “pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.” Jonathan Haidt and other moral psychologists have helped us understand all this better, but at the end of the day we’re left with much of our human identity as a mystery to ourselves (“Why indeed did I do the very thing that I hate? Maybe this particular soul’s intentions weren’t all that good after all?”).

And that’s where the saving act of Jesus meets us on his cross. Thanks be to God that our intentions, good and otherwise, aren’t determinative to God. The Gospel of Jesus isn’t about our good intentions or lack thereof. It’s actually about our recurring failure to have good intentions. It’s about how everything about us, even when our intentions (we hope) are truly good, can become just another opportunity for sin.

And that’s where the Church of Jesus Christ meets us on Good Friday with a witness; for we witness that the Church isn’t a community who has been called together for good intentions. Rather, we’re a community who has been called together by God to proclaim God’s amazing grace in the cross of Jesus. In spite of all we are and aren’t and all we do and don’t do, God loves us on the cross. Now that bears repeating, because many need to be deprogrammed from a worldview that sees God as out to “get” us. Jesus didn’t come into the world to “get” us. He came into the world so long ago to love us (see John 3:16). His cross assures us of that truth for eternity. That’s why this Friday is so Good.

+Scott

 

The organizational theorist, Edgar Schein, has studied for decades how organizations function, particularly around their specific culture’s capacity to adapt to new learning in a changing context. His work with the Harvard Business School on these issues has gained him lots of attention among chief executives. He argues that there’s a built in contradiction in organizations: anxiety hinders the ability to learn, but anxiety is absolutely necessary if any kind of learning is going to occur. Anxiety about the way things are motivates one to learn something new. But anxiety has a negative cognitive affect on our ability to learn. In other words, we don’t learn well when we’re anxious.

Schein goes on to argue that there are two kinds of anxiety associated with anything new: learning anxiety and survival anxiety. Learning anxiety is associated with the fear that we’ll fail at the new thing we’re trying to do, or that it’ll be beyond our abilities, or we’ll appear foolish to others, or that we’ll have to jettison our old patterns that used to work for us. Survival anxiety is the fear that if we’re going to make it, to literally survive the context we’re in, then we’re going to have to change behaviors. In his studies of how businesses operate, Schein contends that most of the time learning anxiety is more powerful than survival anxiety. So, most people will opt to not learn new ways of business even though they know their professional survival depends upon it.

How might we see Schein’s insights applying to the leadership of our congregations? In a post-Christian context, we need to learn new ways of engaging God’s mission to bring others to Christ and to serve people in our communities. We know we must do this, but we experience the learning anxieties that come from fearing that we might fail, or that we might not be gifted enough to do it, or that we might appear foolish to others, or that we might have to give up some of our old ways of doing things. So, what happens? Many congregations are choosing to die rather than learn new missionary skills.

Congregational leaders face huge challenges here. Using Schein’s constructs, how do we help people lower their learning anxiety so it’s less determinative than their survival anxiety? One could argue that we could work from the other end by trying to increase survival anxiety, but that would be through the via negativa, i.e., increasing their fear that if they didn’t learn new ways of mission then the congregation would die or be closed. I find that approach repugnant because it’s based on threats and fear.

That means congregational leaders need to create supportive opportunities for their people to learn new missionary skills working with those in the congregation who have shown some motivation to learn. I think it’s a mistake for leaders to expect everyone to overcome their learning anxiety or even come to recognize that they need to do so. Leaders can work to develop a critical mass of willing learners, people who are ready, even if tentatively, to learn new ways of reaching out in mission. That seems to me be the primary missionary task for leaders: identifying those disciples who are capable of learning new skills and then focusing their energy on working with those disciples.

+Scott