By Steve Manskar
As we come to Holy Week and the beginning of Easter I am thinking about the meaning of these seasons and their importance to leadership. They focus Christians on the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are annual reminders that Jesus Christ is Lord not only of the Church. He is Lord of the cosmos. This reality is stunningly powerful when we come to Holy Week and realize that the Lord of the Universe “emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race,” in the words of Charles Wesley. The notion that the One who is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) suffered torture and crucifixion is beyond belief. And yet it is true. All four Gospels present distinct versions of Jesus, but they all witness to his suffering, death by crucifixion and resurrection on the third day. The gospel writers give witness to the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ and Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). In Lent and Easter Christians are invited to enter into Jesus’ story and claim it for themselves.
This holiest of seasons tells us that Christians are baptized and called to be resurrection people. Christians are a people who live as the “body of Christ” in the world. This means Christ calls and equips the church to witness to his good news for the world. What is his good news? “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). The crucified and risen Christ is at work in the world today. Christians are baptized into his resurrection life to live as witnesses of this good news and to serve as his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Baptism gives us a vocation as representatives and co-workers with Christ in his work preparing this world for the world that is coming.
The vocation of Christians is to live as resurrection people. The apostle Paul describes the resurrection life as exchanging one set of clothes for another. We set aside the old clothes the world says we need (individualism, self-centeredness, envy, greed, anger, sexual gratification, etc.). In their place we are clothed with a new self, in the image of Christ:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:12-17).
The task of Wesleyan leadership is to help the congregation to embrace thinking and practices that enable it to be a resurrection people.
Shift from “Church-going” to “Church-being”
A major obstacle to resurrection living is the common belief that the church is the place we go to be served. It is the building where we go for Sunday school and worship. It’s where we go for weddings and funerals. Christians talk about “going to church” and are referred to as “church goers.” This thinking regards the church as an institution that exists for the personal benefit of members and anyone else who shows up. “Church going” reduces the church to a purveyor of religious goods and services. The church becomes and behaves like a commodity. It reflects and caters to the fads, attitudes, and expectations of the culture it desperately seeks to serve.
“Church going” is not part of the baptismal covenant. It is contrary to resurrection life because it expects the church to serve the church goers. The church becomes a community akin to a country club in which dues paying members expect to be served. While the club provides excellent facilities to help members to enjoy and improve their golf or tennis game, there is no expectation that they even use the facilities. The club exists to serve and make the dues paying members happy. The “church going” church exists to make everyone happy. In fact the standards of membership are even lower for the church than the country club. While the church encourages members to give “time, talents, gifts, service, and witness” there are no requirements, or expectation, that anyone do so for fear of driving people away. When the church’s goal is to attract as many “church goers” as possible, it will do just about anything, except require or expect anything of them. The church for “church goers” is a purveyor of religious goods and services.
Resurrection life is not “church going”. Resurrection life is “church-being”. It is life “in Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When a congregation embraces resurrection life in Christ the expectations are reversed from “church going” to “church being.” Rather than expecting to be served, members are equipped to be Christ ambassadors in the world. Rather than consumers of religious goods and services, they see themselves as members of God’s household who abide by the household rules described by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40, Luke 10:25-37 and John 13:34-35. Love is the culture of this church. Their way of loving is to accept people as they are. And, they love them enough to not leave them as they are. This way of love means doing all in their power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.
Resurrection life requires dying to individualism and consumerism and rising to a new understanding that faith is deeply personal but it is not private. Resurrection life is lived in a community of mutual accountability and support for becoming and living in the world as a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is what John Wesley meant when he wrote
“Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.”
This means that Christians are responsible for one another. We learn how to love in community. In the Methodist tradition, that community is shaped by a rule of life known as the General Rules, summarized as: Do no harm by avoiding evil; Do good to all, to their bodies and to their souls; Learn to obey God by practicing worship, the ministry of the Word, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, Scripture, & fasting. People learn, and are supported in living, resurrection life when they meet weekly in small groups to read Scripture, sing hymns, and give an account of how they are following Jesus guided by the rule of life.
The church that embraces resurrection life is no vendor of religious goods and services. Rather, it is a community centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who opened his arms and heart to the world. He set it free from the powers of sin and death that lead people to embrace individualism and consumerism. Resurrection life is true freedom to love as God loves; to grow in faith; to set your hope in Christ and his righteousness; and to be perfected in love.