Outside the Walls- A Reflection by David Hockett

March 09, 2015

By David Hockett Gene_1At a recent pastoral leadership event, Rev. Gene Appel, Pastor of Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, California, suggested that of the approximately 132 interactions Jesus had with people that are recorded in the New Testament, 6 occurred in the Temple and 4 took place in a synagogue.  While I am sure scholars might debate the exact numbers, the point is clear: the majority of Jesus’ interactions with other people took place outside the walls of the “church.”  Certainly, Jesus engaged religious leaders and with the faithful of his day, but much of his time was spent eating with, fellowshipping with, conversing with, and interacting with people who were at best on the margins of the faith community.  And he did so reminding us that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Appel went on to ask us to consider whether or not our preaching, and teaching, and leadership as pastors makes it clear to our congregations that we are to be similarly engaged?  Are we making it clear that the gospel has an apostolic impulse; that we are called not to sit but to be sent out in the name of Jesus to teach, and heal, and feed, and offer hope and good news?  The great thing for us as Methodists is that this being sent out to make disciples is in our DNA.  When confronted with a similar challenge to follow the Spirit’s leading and take the gospel beyond the walls of a proper English church, Wesley “…submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation…” I wonder if we do not find ourselves in a similar place, so turned in upon ourselves that even the thought of reordering our ministry priorities to move out beyond our walls seems foreign if not, to use Wesley’s word, vile?  Even if we allow for a more generous assessment of things and suggest that we’ve just forgotten how to proclaim salvation in the highways, or are struggling with finding effective ways to do so in our current context, there is still much work to be done if we are going to recover the fire that moved Wesley to claim that he had nothing to do but save souls. Now, just to be clear, reengaging the world beyond our walls with the gospel doesn’t mean that we are to neglect the people we are appointed to shepherd.  This is not an either or.  As Patrick Scriven suggests, “…we can tell our story in a way that demands a future without neglecting the present.”  ("Telling An Alternative Story", in the Leading Ideas section of www.churchleadership.com dated 2/25/2015. The Twitter link is http://bit.ly/1AgO23n)  But that future must include a vision of the Church in which disciple making involves more than nurturing the disciples Christ already has. I would suggest that one of the first steps in making that outward turn involves being really honest with where we are as pastors, laity, and congregations.  In other words, when we really evaluate how we are oriented, how we are investing our time, our energy, and our resources?  Are we living as if our neighbors really matter?  Appel’s comments were challenging, and if I am completely honest, they were also convicting.  When I pull back the layers of my own calendar the reality is most of my time and energy are devoted to matters internal to the life of the church.  This really isn’t all that surprising it’s just that it is also not faithful to the God we know in Christ Jesus our Lord. So, as a simple Lenten discipline, I have been counting the hours (a very Wesleyan thing to do I might add), not to keep track of how much I am doing but to be honest about what matters.  I have begun to take an honest look at what occupies my time and my congregation’s time, in order to move to a place of greater balance where at least more of our time is devoted to investing in the lives of those with whom Jesus spent so much of his time. This is not easy work.  It requires giving up old habits and patterns and being really intentional if we are going to have meaningful interactions with those who live the majority of their lives in some “far country”.  But is it not worth it?  Are our neighbors not worth the effort?  After all, we love and serve a God who in Christ Jesus “submitted to becoming more vile” by emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross, all for the life of the world. hockettsqRev. David Hockett is the pastor of Forest Hill UMC in Concord, NC
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