Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Creation Care and Worship

It is fruitless to get caught up in a discussion about the credibility of climate change science. This debate will continue for some time. Yet faith communities do need to be engaged in discussions of creation care.
I am beginning to realize that creation care is naturally lodged within a theology of worship. True worship, encompasses generosity, restraint and compassion. These values are critical to creation care. Indeed it is their opposites – greed, recklessness and apathy – that threaten the health of the earth and its inhabitants. It is people of faith, especially Anabaptist faith, conditioned and committed to live lives of worship by loving God and their neighbour that are most logically positioned to lead the way in seeking climate justice and creation care.

Anabaptism, with its focus on discipleship and service has always resisted a one dimensional understanding of worship. Menno Simons wrote; “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm it, binds up that which is wounded.”

Such an understanding of faithfulness to God will naturally lead us to express commitment to the other. It is an alignment to the directive expressed by Jesus in Matt 22. When asked which the greatest commandment of the Law is, Jesus replied by saying: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you follow this directive it will be impossible to ignore the compassionate imperative of creation care.

According to a report by Willie Reimer and Bruce Guenther at the 2012 Mennonite Central Committee Canada annual general meeting, every night one billion people – one sixth of the world’s population – goes to bed hungry. The growth of global undernourishment can be largely attributed to the increasing number of people affected by environmental disasters such as drought, flooding and storm surges. An estimated 250 million people are affected by climate related hazards in a typical year, according to Reimer and Guenther, and that is projected to grow by 50% to an estimated 375 million people a year by 2015.

It is difficult to worship God and ignore these dynamics. If there is even a chance that our Canadian lifestyle patterns contribute to the suffering of global neighbours, our adulation and reverence to God will compel us to seek correction and express compassion.
The developed countries of the world hold 25% of the world's population, but consume 75% of all energy, 85% of all wood products, and 72% of all steel produced. (http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/educational/handouts/ethics/wasting_away.cfm)
Canadians are consuming at a pace that is 2.5 times greater than the average global citizen. (http://planetpanels.com/human-consumption-and-the-earth-logged-hours/).
Our love for God obliges us to express generosity, restraint and compassion.
Generosity: because with the Spirit of God in us, we can’t help ourselves from being generous. Restraint: because we yearn for greater surrender to God not a defeat to self-indulgence. With the Spirit of God in us, the discipline of restraint is joyfully embraced. Compassion: because disregard for others is intolerable. Inaction is unacceptable. With the Spirit of God in us we cannot help but push aside apathy and become engaged.

Creation care is neighbour care. And neighbour care is a vital expression of our love for God.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Looking for the Essentials

When I was a pastor, going to the church office on mid-week mornings was always a risky thing to do. I never knew how much time I would have before someone stopped by to chat. I was my own receptionist, so a visitor was an unavoidable interruption.

One regular visitor would always inquire what I was working on. However, my answer of “working on the sermon,” would result in a response of ‘good, then nothing important.’ I was never quite sure if there was a touch of sarcasm in this response. Nonetheless, the visitor would then sit in my office and begin a lengthy conversation. As irritating as it often felt back then, I am beginning to wonder if it is somewhat prophetic.

Despite recognising the importance of lay involvement, worship services still place a lot of focus on the message. Indeed other aspects of the service usually support the theme of the sermon. The sermon is considered the main instructional component to the worship experience.

As I continue to try and understand the future we are living into, I am beginning to wonder if the sermon will have less importance in a church’s worship service. I am not suggesting that the instructional purpose of the sermon is to be rejected, but rather when, where, and how that happens may need to change.

In a recent meeting of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), each denominational leader was to bring along a young adult. This made for some rich table conversations. A survey released earlier this summer by EFC revealed that young adults do not place a high value on sermons when choosing which church to attend.

One of the researchers described visiting a congregation that is attracting young adults. The worship was similar to most other contemporary services, and the sermon didn’t stand out either. When asked what made this congregation so attractive, the young adults responded by saying, “the authenticity.” The leaders of the congregation did not hide their personal struggles or their short-comings. This honesty was not only refreshing, it also positioned pursuing faithfulness as a common pursuit, rather than an exceptional endeavour of the spiritual elite. It is something that everyone struggles with, but that anyone can participate in. What a wonderful invitation to Christian discipleship.

Another congregation intentionally met with young adults who had left the fellowship of the congregation. The pastor was openly seeking to learn what they could have done differently. The pastor asked what programs would have helped keep them in the church. Finally one of the young adults responded, “I didn’t want a program. I just wanted to go out for a coffee with you.”

This is not to suggest that pastors determine whether or not young adults stay in the church. But the church in the future will probably be less programmed, and the sermon may not be a central feature of the gathered community’s worship experience. However, these are two aspects of pastoral ministry currently requiring a lot of time and energy.

As I look back at my years as a pastor, I wonder what it would have been like if I didn’t have programs to maintain and sermons to prepare. I certainly would have had a lot more time for informal and unscheduled conversations. And that would probably have been a good thing.