This is the General Presbyter report to Monmouth Presbytery June 23, 2015
You’ve heard me talk about Keeping it 100 for the past few meetings. In February I spoke about Keep it 100 in the presbytery by being 100% real and honest with each other. I also talked about keeping it 100 in your financial support of the presbytery. In April I focused on the role of authenticity in keeping it 100. Tonight, I want to focus on Keeping it 100 with ourselves.
Sometimes, we’re not really all that honest with ourselves. We don’t take the time to examine ourselves and our own motivations, thoughts, beliefs, call, vision, mission. Yet we are called to know ourselves and to be honest and bold in how God wants to use us for Christ’s purpose in this place. We’ve been called to look more closely and honestly with ourselves just this past week in the wake of the shootings at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. The call is to look to ourselves and our own complacency and participation in the societal values and systems that lead to this kind of hate, racism, and gun violence.
It takes faith and courage to do this kind of work — to keep it 100 with ourselves. Perhaps it’s because we’re just too busy going about the tasks of life. Perhaps it’s because we’re in denial. Perhaps it’s because the truth is frightening or makes us uncomfortable.
When my daughter was in college, she called me late one night to ask my opinion on a relationship problem … Really! She wanted my opinion, my advice. It was a mother’s dream come true. And I was about to give it when a small voice inside me said, “no, wait.” And, instead, I answered her, “You know what you think is right; I’m pretty sure you already know what you want.”
Unsurprisingly, my daughter was confused. “No, I don’t know,” she said, “Or I wouldn’t have called you.”
“Think about it, you already know what I’m going to say, if you wanted to hear something different you would have called someone else.”
The problem is that the advice I had, and the answer she knew deep within her, were the hard choice, the painful choice, the difficult choice. Sometimes we avoid looking at those difficult truths.
I have been talking with colleagues about the denominational program, New beginnings. I’ve talked with those who have used the program and those who are assessors in the program. I asked specifically about the criticism they heard most about the program. They consistently told me that congregations often complain that the assessment didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know. They knew about their finances and their building use; they knew about their membership decline and the challenges they were facing in leadership; they knew about the changing demographics and the changing culture; they even knew many of the options they had for the future. The thing is … sometimes you need someone from the outside to point it out to you. Sometimes you need to intentionally take the time to evaluate and examine your call.
The truth is that sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we don’t know what God is saying clearly and consistently to us and through us … but we just don’t see it.
About a decade ago, I went to a conference in Dallas and signed up for a workshop on spirituality. It’s not the kind of workshops I usually attend. I tend to choose topics that give practical advice that are about change and action in the church. But this time, I heard the voice say … take the course in Spirituality. And I thought, great, I’m going to spend the week sitting on a pillow and chanting “ohm.” It wasn’t that kind of course, though, and one of the biggest take-aways I got from that workshop was the director’s insistence that self-awareness is the most important spiritual discipline for a pastor or a church leader. Know yourself, know what God wants to do through you. Know your strengths and know your shortcomings. Know what gives you life and what sucks the life out of you.
The same is true for congregations and for sessions. We aren’t always Keeping it 100 with ourselves. Whether it’s because of denial or confusion or just the habitual work of doing church … we don’t always step aside to do the self-examination that is required of us to be spiritually on top of our game.
Over the last few weeks, I was re-introduced to the spiritual practice of Examen in a number of different contexts. Examen is an Ignatian spiritual discipline that is important for spiritual growth and effective leadership. Examen is a way of examining our life, our work, our call, our ministry. It is prayerful look at the moments of greatest consolation and greatest desolation.
Tonight I want to challenge our sessions to use examen as a way to Keep it 100 with ourselves. You can do this at the beginning or the end of your meetings together. According to this post on Ignatian Spirituality, there are five steps in the examen discipline:
- Become aware of God’s presence.
- Review the day with gratitude.
- Pay attention to your emotions.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
- Look toward tomorrow.
As a session, begin with acknowledging the presence of Christ in your midst. Light a candle, quiet yourself, mark the time as “holy.”
Then, in that holy space, ask each member the examen questions:
- For what event, moment, happening in this church am I most grateful? For what am I least grateful?
- What did we do as a church this month in which we gave and received the most love? The least love?
- What did we do as a church this past month that was the most life-giving? The most life-thwarting?
- When did we as a church have the greatest connection to God? The least connection to the Spirit?
- Where in the life of our church this month, were you aware we were living out of the fruit of the Spirit? Where was the absence of the fruit of the Spirit?
(These questions are adapted from those listed here: Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg (2009-08-20). Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (The Transforming Center Set) (p. 53). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)
Practice moving from your head to your heart. Don’t only share what you think about your past work as church together, but practice sharing how you feel about it as well. Pay attention to your emotions.
End with prayer and a sense of looking toward the future.
This kind of self-awareness/examination as a church will lead you to great insights about your ministry. It will help you be challenged for a life together that is more firmly rooted in God’s call to you. It will help you better under and what God is trying to do through you.
It’s apparent we are living in very tumultuous times as a church, as a culture. The headlines in our news feeds tell us that continually. We have the responsibility as the ecclesia … those called out by God … to be the prophetic voice of honesty and the comforting voice of hope. That voice is birthed and nurtured in our own ability to Keep it 100 … personally in our own spiritual lives, congregationally as we grow together and discern our futures, and as the witness of Christ in the world.