A Word from Our Pastor 2010 May Five Practices of Fuitful Congregations part 2

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Part 2

Several weeks before Easter, I started a sermon series based on a book, “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations,” written by a United Methodist bishop. One of the practices is “intentional faith development,” so we spent several weeks focusing on different types of prayer, and this week, those persons who wanted to be assigned a “prayer partner” will begin that program.
The next practice we are taking up is “risk-taking mission.” Our church is involved in many kinds of mission, largely through the work of United Methodist Women and our Missions Committee. Most of the time mission means that we raise money and give it to good causes; and our church is very generous, of that we may feel proud. However, risk-taking mission involves more than raising money: it means involving ourselves personally in something we believe in. Risk-taking mission usually requires us to step outside what is comfortable to us, to step outside the four walls of our church.
Isn’t it enough to give money? Why should we do something more, something different?
I think it is important to try to do more for two reasons: the benefit to the persons who receive, and the benefit to those who give (that is, us). Of course, I am sure people in need appreciate receiving a “care package,” and the funds we give to relief efforts after natural disasters save lives. However, imagine yourself in the place of someone in Haiti after the recent earthquake — imagine receiving medical care or food from a person who has traveled many miles just to help you. You have not just received the gift of medicine or bread: but you have received concrete proof that you are not alone: that there are others who understand your difficult circumstances, and who are willing to join you in your suffering. The gift of hope is a powerful thing: with hope there is reason to struggle on, whatever challenge you face.
What about those who give? When I write a check for a charity I feel good about it: but that good feeling doesn’t last all that long. Really, I haven’t put very much of myself into that check, even if I will miss the money. We all want to make a difference in the world: we know there is a lot of suffering, and we want to try and make things a bit better. Also, as we grow up, we learn that we in the United States are extremely privileged, and if we had been born elsewhere, no matter how hard we work, no matter how much we struggle, we could easily be defeated by disease and poverty. We have been given much more than our fair share of the world’s wealth, and so it is our responsibility to find a way to share. Therefore, in giving more than just a check, we can experience the job of actually seeing our efforts at creating a better world: we begin to understand that we can each of us make a difference, and that what we have to offer is needed.
Risk-taking mission can be a lot of different things: it takes us out of what is comfortable, and challenges us to put something of ourselves out in the world. It can be taking training to be a “first responder” (a program of the United Methodist Church that readies people for going to disaster areas), or going on work missions (building, painting, fixing, teaching children) to foreign countries or even in local or regional areas. It can also be being a support team for those who go: any project needs people who recruit, publicize, raise funds, collect supplies and pray for the mission.
There is an another benefit for those who undertake to support risk-taking mission: the growth of faith. Human beings grow when they take up challenges to try new things: new things to learn, new tasks, new ideas. Similarly, our faith grows when it faces new challenges. Our experience has taught us that we can trust God in familiar circumstances. However, when we undertake a risky project because we believe that God is calling us to do it, we are actively trusting God to guide and support us as we move into the unknown. We are learning to trust God in new ways: that is how faith grows.
So in the next few months, we will be working to provide more mission opportunities for everyone in the congregation. For some, taking a risk might be talking to a new person during coffee hour, or visiting an isolated person in their home. For others, taking a risk might be serving lunch to the homeless, or volunteering in the UMC’s Sierra Service Project. We are all called to step out on faith, take a risk, and try to alleviate someone’s suffering. I am confident that this will be a rewarding and inspiring time for our church.