M.A.D. vs. G.L.A.D

jv_headshot2012Recently I sent out an article suggesting that it might be time for City Road folks to focus on being M.A.D, with those initials standing for “making a difference.” It was a fun play on words, using M.A.D. in a different context. I confess, I’ve been watching the series “Mad Men” lately, and I could come up with all sorts of phrases using the abbreviation as a means of helping us to remember to make a difference.

Not long after we sent out that newsletter, I received the following message from Phil Sweeney, which I greatly appreciated:

For some reason I am just seeing ,or taking the chance to read my March 24 newsletter. I don’t know if your M.A.D.  (Making  a Difference) campaign is an ongoing theme but if it is can I suggest that the next campaign be G.L.A.D.( Grace, Love, Action, Discipleship) . I think there are enough; if not too many Christians that walk around looking like they are mad that they have chosen Christ instead of being the happiest people on earth we can accept Christ through grace. I truly believe that we need to make a difference but I also think we should be GLAD we are Christians not MAD. I know that I am taking your MAD in a totally different context than you proposed; and the exact opposite of your context.  I am just afraid that  some members at City Road who may judge; and who may be exclusive instead of inclusive may think they are “making a difference’ with this view (and I know there are very few of these at City Road) and it is okay to be a mad Christian.

Phil makes some very good points. In my attempt to be clever and creative it’s certainly possible that some people could easily interpret being “M.A.D.” as a justification for judgmentalism and exclusion, which is not at all what I believe is part of our calling in Madison. In fact, the latest report from the Pew Center (released this week and in the headlines) suggests that one of the factors driving folks from the church is the self-righteous anger that many Christians wear on their sleeves rather than an orientation toward love and grace. Perhaps our greatest challenge in helping introduce people to the life of faith is the sincere but often misguided attempts by church folks to “protect the faith,” and in doing so maintaining attitudes of anger. While I absolutely hope that we will be a people committed to making a difference in each other’s lives and in our community and the world, that is through embodying love, grace, and acceptance.

Phil’s suggestion for us to be G.L.A.D. Christians is a good one at well, for it lifts up the core of what it means to be Christians in the United Methodist (Wesleyan) tradition. We believe that God’s grace and love is at the center of all we do and who we are. We are a people committed to action, who understand that faith and works are synergistic, and that love of neighbor is part of God’s command for his people. We are a people committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. True disciples are people who make a difference in the world, whether they are aware of what they are doing or not.

I’m still committed to helping others in our community understand that City Road is a place that wants to make a difference in Madison and the world. I believe (based on my research) that younger generations want to be a part of a place where there is a commitment to changing the world, and City Road has been a place infused with a similar desire.

But I also want everyone to know that City Road is a “G.L.A.D” place, rooted in grace and love, engaged in faith in action, and working to help all grow in Christ and share God’s love.

Thanks Phil for pushing me to think in a new way. May we all become G.L.A.D. Christians.

Peace,

Jay

It’s Time to Be M.A.D.

In case you haven’t heard the news, Bishop McAlilly has informed our Staff Parish Relations Committee that Emily and I are being reappointed to serve the City Road Chapel congregation for another year. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing, but it’s hard to believe that my one year anniversary is coming in just a couple of months. It’s been an amazing experience for me so far for you are an amazing group of people, and I’m honored to be able to brag that I’m one of your pastors.

During the past 10 months much of my focus has been to listen, and then to affirm all the good things that God is doing in our midst. As we move through the seasons of life it’s easy to fall into despair that we “…aren’t like we used to be.” However, sometimes that keeps us from seeing all sorts of very cool things happening among us, and so the call to be “on the road again” has been a challenge to see that there are very good things happening now which are leading into our future. God is with us, leading us on a road toward health and wholeness.

As we move into a new season, I find myself often asking how do we fit into God’s purposes for Madison. Certainly there are all sorts of churches in the area, all with their own identity and calling. How do we fit into that mix of God’s work in our neighborhood?

As I’ve thought about this, the phrase that has come to me again and again is that City Road Chapel is a group of disciples of Jesus committed to making a difference – in our church, in Madison, and throughout the world. There are other churches who maybe have more exciting worship, who maybe have bigger programs, and who have newer buildings filled with shiny, happy people, but our calling, our purpose, our identity is to make a difference in the lives of one another and our neighbors. We do that through things like the Community Meal, Sunday’s Table, our work with Christian Cooperative Ministries, through helping parents through our Child Development Center, and all sorts of other ministries. We make a difference through conversations in the Welcome Center on a Wednesday night, or through a bible study at Eva Chance’s house with a group of young women on Thursdays. We make a difference in the world through being part of a United Methodist Church which sponsors ministry in every part of the globe.

My hope and prayer for this next season is every one of us will be M.A.D., that is that we will be committed to making a difference. For some of us that may be making a difference for our church through helping out with the various tasks required to run this place. For others, that might be making a difference through their active participation in an outreach or discipleship ministry. How each one of us makes a difference is ultimately between God and ourselves, but I believe that God is calling each and every one of us to make a difference.

It’s great to have another year with you in ministry as we work together to make a difference in Madison.

See you soon,
Jay

Meet the mayoral candidates this Sunday

noah.tn.organizing_1379392074_67This Sunday will be our regular Madison Community Meal, and I want to encourage all who are able to come help out with this important ministry. However there is another opportunity that I want to make you aware of in case it offers a better fit with God’s call in your life.

There is a new organization in town called NOAH (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope) which is a coalition of non-profits and faith communities working to enhance community life, promote justice, and generally influence our legislators to look beyond tourism and economic development to address the needs of our neighborhoods. NOAH is a successor to another effort you may be familiar with from several years back called Tying Nashville Together (TNT), which worked successfully to address several issues in our city.

NOAH is sponsoring an event this Sunday, February 22, 2015 at 3 p.m. titled “A Tale of Two Nashvilles” which will be a forum with all of the mayoral candidates. The event will be held at the 15th Ave. Baptist Church located at 1203 9th Ave. N. here in Nashville. The NOAH organizers are wanting to have several thousand folks in attendance and it would be great to have some City Road representation to speak to the issues we face in Madison.

There are some of you, I’m sure, that are wondering why I’m promoting an event that is blatantly political. I know there are probably folks in our church who believe that politics and religion don’t mix, and we should not interest ourselves in these things. However, the gospel of Jesus Christ and his command to love our neighbors is a deeply political proclamation. We live in communities with great needs — needs that reach far beyond our abilities to address — and our call to love means that we want to be a part of creating neighborhoods which are safe, healthy, and offer all an opportunity for advancement. Additionally (and somewhat selfishly I admit) our church’s well being is tied to the well being our our surrounding community, and the well being of that community is directly affected by the person who sits in the mayors office. Thus it is important that we listen carefully to the candidates, and more important that we share our perspectives with those candidates as well.

I confess that I am still evaluating if a more formal relationship with NOAH is a good fit for our congregation (although I know many of the organizers and consider them friends). However the event this Sunday is an excellent opportunity for getting information about the persons who are vying to be mayor of Nashville, and connect with other persons of faith who deeply care about their community. While my hope is that most of us will be helping with the community meal, I want to commend Sunday’s forum to others who may have an interest in our city’s future.

 

The Guesthouse of the Soul

Recently as a part of my morning devotions I’ve been reading a new book by Ray Waddle, the former religion reporter for the Tennessean, and one of the finest observers of American religion that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Undistorted God: Dispatches of Faith Amid the Cultural Noise is a collection of essays Waddle has written on the nature of faith, the practice of religion, and the place of church in the world.

This morning I was struck by Waddle’s observation on the place of the church in the world:

Churches disagree on a thousand points of theology or worship or politics. But they share something more important than any difference, an unspoken charter with a precise message: you have a soul, and this is it’s guesthouse. Come on in, If you want it, you can sign up for good works down the hall. If you want it, silence awaits through those double doors over their by the sanctuary. Don’t be afraid.

For many today the church or congregation has become a purveyor of programs rather than a guesthouse for the soul. In the consumeristic, “church has to compete with the secular culture” world, churches focus on the next big thing that will attract people inside our doors, whether that is the best band, the dynamic preacher, or the cast of Duck Dynasty making an appearance in Sunday morning worship. And yet what Waddle recognizes is that our attempts to keep up with the Jones’s mentality of programming is ultimately doomed to fail for it ignores the unique claim of the church to be a guesthouse of the soul.

All this might sound excessively otherworldly, but if it’s true, then it is as practical as it is mystical. It embodies a wised-up counterculturalism that a person needs for surviving the swindles and self-deceptions of modern life. Congregations are the last places in America, the very last, where time is set aside for values and motives that don’t promote relentless ideologies or monetized product placement or the law of self-interest or the digital Fear of Missing Out. Church says we will honor things that might well embarrass everyday society — reverence, prayer, vulnerable emotion, the arc on invisible mysteries, the eruptions of gratuitous giving, the setting aside of ego, and the pledging of thankless acts of mercy that defy materialistic advantage. If these things are an embarrassment, bring it on.

What Waddle is suggesting (and what I agree with) is that being the guesthouse of the soul must be at the center of everything we do. We offer a meal to our neighbors not simply because they need to be fed, but also because we understand that serving others allows us to experience the Divine in those who Jesus called “the least of these.” We come to worship not simply because there will be good music, but because that music stirs our emotions to experience God’s presence in deep ways. Our ministry with children and youth is not about offering alternative entertainment, but about being the agents by which our kid’s souls are formed, lifting up the importance of love and forgiveness, service and compassion, and the ability to be vulnerable in a world which lifts up vulnerability as a weakness.

My hope and prayer for City Road is that we can begin to see our church as a guesthouse for our souls, and the souls of those who live around us. May our desire for programs never outweigh our task of caring for our spirits — in all sorts of ways.

How is City Road caring for YOUR soul,  and if it isn’t, what do YOU need to help you better be formed in the image of Christ?

Monday Morning Reflections for 11/3/2014

Happy Monday!

We’ve definitely moved into fall with the change in the weather, and it’s great to feel the chill in the air. The leaves are turning and falling, and it’s clear that we are moving into a new season. I’d like to think we are entering into a new season of ministry here at City Road, and so it was exciting to see that we had right at 200 folks in worship this past Sunday. Af course it was All Saints and we had several special visitors, but we are seeing some new regular faces as well and it’s good to know that folks are finding God’s presence through what we do on Sunday mornings.

This past weekend I shared on Facebook an article that’s been making the rounds titled “The Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests“. What’s been the most interesting fact in that article was that the number one reason that first-time visitors don’t come back is due to what we would perceive as our most welcoming and friendly element in worship: the meeting and greeting time.

The meet and greet is an adaptation of the traditional Passing of the Peace, a ancient worship practice which the early Christians used as a means of making connection with one another in a tangible way. Over time, we’ve made that less formal into the meet and greet time we have today. The goal is not a bad one — to offer an opportunity for the community to personally connect with one another and to reach out to the newcomers in our midst. But as we are learning, there are often unintended consequences of this time in spite of our best intentions.

Now, before you panic, the preacher isn’t suggesting that we are ending the meet and greet time anytime soon. It is indeed part of our life together, and is not easily cast aside — although some experts would suggest that we should do so in favor of a more informal greeting and welcome practice before and after the worship service. However, we may need to take a moment to think more intentionally about how this is experienced and if we are doing more harm than good in being hospitable to our guests.

I won’t go into the reasons that this time is difficult for many, but encourage you to check out this article to learn about what one writer has learned. As we think about his learnings, the second reason that folks don’t like it — the belief that church members are not sincere in their greetings — may be the most important. You see welcome and hospitality are not simply about superficial hellos and greetings. People are used to those greetings from the clerk at the Taco Bell or the car salesman trolling to make a deal. What folks want and need are others who are interesting in their lives — where they live, what makes them tick, what are their struggles, and where do they (or don’t they) experience the presence of God. That kind of engagement can’t happen in the span of a hymn verse. That kind of connection only comes when we are gathered around the table, drinking a glass of tea and investing our time into someone else’s live — as they invest their time into us.

If I could snap my fingers and develop a ministry of hospitality that is more effective than the meet and greet it would be to use that time for folks to setup lunch dates after worship has ended. What would be great is instead of saying “Hello, glad you are here…” we would say, “Hello, can I take you to lunch…” You see, the scriptures don’t tell us that Christ is revealed in the handshake. No, Christ shows up in the breaking of bread — something that happens when we are gathered around the table, eating and talking together.

I don’t have any great answers to whether we should or shouldn’t have a meet and greet time — there are arguments to be made both ways. But I am certain that God is calling us to live out a ministry of welcome and inclusion, in which all are invited to join us on the road in our journey of faith.

Your thought? Feel free to leave a comment here, or to join the conversation at: https://www.facebook.com/jay.voorhees/posts/10152356349206400:0

Monday Morning Reflections for 10/27/2014

Happy Monday!

We had a great day yesterday with our Road Rally Sunday, with a bunch of folks sharing their road maps of their commitments in 2015. Don’t forget if you’ve not completed yours yet, you can do so on-line at https://cityroadchapel.org/roadmap.

We’ve had a good month thinking about being on the road again, but I know that some are sick of all this road language. Of course some our road language ties into our name — we are a “road church” after all. I, as one rooted in our United Methodist/Wesleyan heritage, likewise believe that one of our gifts to the world is a theology that talks openly about being on a journey, and that we are moving on toward destinations unknown.

The important thing, no matter which image appeals to us, is that we understand and believe that we are moving forward. Far too often it is easy as a church to get settled, complacent in our faith, and thinking that we’ve arrived and not much is really expected of us. And yet, if we look at Christ’s life example, we see a man who was continually on the road, traveling from place to place, teaching and healing. As disciples who follow in his footsteps, we are likewise called to be on the move, never complacent, always searching for the next destination that God has in store for us. There are no settler Christians!

Harriet Bryan reminded us yesterday that we have been commissioned for the journey, sent two by two, to share God’s love in the world. Our Bishop Bill McAlilly likewise draws on that Luke 10 story to make his please for all United Methodists in Middle Tennessee to join the 72 as part of his 72+You campaign toward church renewal. Again and again we are being reminded that we continue on the journey that was started many years ago, and that we are being called again to head out and see what amazing things God has in story for us.

If you have a chance, you may want to check out the Bishop’s new site, http://72plusyou.com/ which offers resources to help us think about being on the journey.

There are great things in the works for our church. I sure hope that you are willing to join in the journey.

See you soon,
Jay

Moved in the gut

Yesterday, Jim Neely and I loaded up in his truck before sunrise and headed south to visit the City Road youth serving the needy of the Cumberland Mountains through their week with Mountain T.O.P. Ministries. I’m always blessed when I get to hang out with kids who are living out Christ’s call to love our neighbors, and we had a great day visiting 8 different job sites and driving almost 350 miles in the course of the day.

One of the things that became clear as we traveled from Baker Mountain to Pikeville to Dunlap to McMinnville to Doyle was that there continue to be great needs throughout our area. During the course of the day we met the sick and lonely, folks without electricity and running water, and people who live day in and day out with poverty around them. Our kids (and the kids from across the country working with them) did a great job of representing Christ’s love and working on the small projects they were given, but their work is just a drop in the bucket of the needs throughout our state . . . including our own neighborhood of Madison.

It’s easy in the midst of the need to experience “compassion fatigue.” It’s not that we don’t want to help others — we absolutely do. But there comes a point where we get worn out by all the needs, and we’re not sure we can carry on anymore.

Jesus understood those feelings. The gospels tell us that he tried to get away from the crowds filled with needs to regroup and renew. However, as he looked in the faces of the needy, the scriptures tell us that he “had compassion upon the crowds.” The Greek word we translate as “compassion” literally means “moved in one’s stomach,” that is, Jesus felt the needs of those around him in his gut . . . and in that was empowered to offer love in spite of his fatigue.

Are you moved in your gut by the needs of those who live around and among us? Are we empowered by God’s spirit to reach through our fatigue and offer Christ’s love however we can? What is our passion for the least and lost that walk and drive past our church every day.

My prayer for City Road is that we will be a people who feel the pain and need of the world, and respond accordingly. I pray that we take time to look around us and take note of the various struggles of our neighbors. May we be a people of compassion, reaching beyond ourselves to offer Christ’s love to a world in need.

God has put us in this place to be a beacon of love and light to the people of Madison. May that light burn bright as we live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

–Jay