Take a look at this video:
Bishop Ough showed that video in his opening address to the Council of Bishops Extended Cabinet Summit, a recent gathering of 800 United Methodist leaders from all over the U.S., to help us remember that our purpose as leaders in the church is cultivating vital congregations.
When you know your why, your what has more impact because you are walking toward your purpose.
So anybody out there ever forget the why of what they are doing? Or another way to put it: Have you forgotten your first love?
I told my mother that this year she’s in charge of Thanksgiving. The last two times I hosted it, it was a disaster, at least in my head. I was so caught up with cooking the perfect turkey, and in both cases it was a fail—not to mention the mashed potatoes that ended up on the floor in the mashing of the Jell-O that didn’t gel. I was stressed out and coming to hate what has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love Thanksgiving because it is so simple: family being together and giving thanks for the blessings in our lives. But I had turned it into something way more complicated, judging the success of the day by the meal that was served, and I ended up losing the part about why we gather in the first place. This year, I intend to take a different approach: I’ll be in charge of setting the table and doing the dish washing so that my day is spent focused on the relationships and conversations, and I’ll let Mom—who cooks a great turkey—do what she does best.
So church: How many times are we going through the motions of being church while having forgotten the why of what we do? We get so busy doing the work of the church that we can forget what drew us into this relationship with God and our community of faith in the first place. But it is important to remember the why, because then worship is not just an hour of singing and listening to a sermon—it is remembering who and whose we are, and bringing our heart and lives to God. Being a greeter or an usher is not just a job—it is offering the love of Christ to the person who needs a smile and a welcome because life is hard. Teaching a Sunday School class is not just doing a lesson plan—it is being an adult who invests in the lives of kids so they know they belong, they matter, and they are a part of bigger story than whatever is happening in their life at that moment. When you remember your why, it changes the impact of what you are doing!
How many times do we try to be good at something that is not our gift or our purpose? We go to some workshop, see what another church is doing, and think we will just do the same thing, and then we will be a great church. The only problem is that church is not us with our people, our assets, our mission field. So we never quite hit the sweet spot. You know that sweet spot—Frederick Buechner described it by saying, “Where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need, that is our calling.”
Why has God called your church into being, and brought together this unique group of people and placed in you in the community and neighborhood you are in? When you get clear about the why, then you can begin to understand what you need to be doing—and the “doing” becomes more joy than work. This is precisely why I am washing dishes this Thanksgiving and not cooking a turkey!
I name my own calling as “helping the church be the church.” It is rooted in my first love—there was a group of people who were church to me. For a teenage girl who struggled with belonging, they offered a community of love and forgiveness. It’s because of them that I know Jesus and that I am indeed a beloved child of God who has gifts to offer the world.
No matter how strong the voices saying the church has become irrelevant and one can be spiritual but not religious, I still believe the church is the hope of the world—because it was for me. And I am convinced there are a lot of other people out there who need the kind of community that loved me and showed me where to find life.
I will not give up on the church because I know what it can be, if only we remember why we are here. You’ve got to know your why! That is what turns an ordinary song, moment, life into something extraordinary.
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church