By Cody Collier
During a very intense time early in my ministry, I recall preparing to speak at an ecumenical community Thanksgiving service. There was a deep political divide over upcoming elections and negative campaigns. In addition, there was a considerable amount of racial tension that reflected the injustice and inequity in a troubled urban community. The church I was serving at the time was going through a season of much needed change in leadership. Many leaders were burned out and had requested to come off committees they had served for some time. However, once the new officers were approved at the charge conference, there were people grumbling over the new leaders. The question I kept getting was: How could this happen?
As local churches were wrestling with a variety of issues in their settings of ministry and in the community, you could sense there were clergy who were weary and overwhelmed by it all. At the same time, members of local churches were masking the reality, and they wished the conflict, divisiveness and community concerns would just go away. It was clear that the climate of the culture was creating a less than enthusiastic group of congregations coming together for a worship service of praise and Thanksgiving.
As I entered the church, I saw that the members had done an excellent job in offering radical hospitality. The pastors in the community were supportive as they shared important parts in the service. The combined choirs offered meaningful and uplifting songs. In the process of my getting ready to preach, an usher came up with a pitcher of water, which I was happy to receive. I immediately lifted up a cup for the usher to pour the water in; however, the top part of the pitcher fell off, drenching me with ice water. Suddenly, people were running to dry me off with towels. The pastors were showing great concern for me. The pianist began to play one of my favorite gospel songs while I worked to get myself back together. After a few minutes, I got up and shared: Friends, I have changed the message tonight from “Giving Thanks” to the theme “Renewing Your Baptism.” Although that was not what I preached, people laughed and were more prayerful and thankful to be together!
I believe it is exactly in times of fear, doubt, uncertainties, and change – when discernment is desperately needed – that the church can have a prophetic voice and an energetic witness through our collective prayers, humility, laughter and gratitude to a loving and generous God.
In today’s political climate, as we feel the tension in our communities and as the United Methodist church is facing major decisions about its legacy and future in the coming months and years, particularly with the Special Session of General Conference, many are asking how the church can still have a faithful witness in the midst of so much complexity and confusion. The continual decline of attendance in mainline churches and the current realities facing the church’s mission field represent unique challenges and a definite call for courageous, grateful, and adaptive leadership. How we need faithful, grace-filled, and blessed leaders at such a time as this!
blessed leaders offer a gospel and testimony of hope. They are clergy and laity who share their stories of faith concerning God’s goodness, love, joy, forgiveness, and grace. They provide a hope grounded in God’s victory in the cross and Resurrection over the powers of sin and death. Among the many competing voices of people immersed in individualism, consumerism, political partisanship, and hopeless negativism, blessed leaders venture beyond the familiar and comfortable into the places where there is suffering, injustice and despair to bring good news. People facing bullying, sexual abuse, and loss; the student failing a class at school; those immobilized by their financial crisis; or the persons disillusioned by their experiences of church – all seek a Word and words of a better day.
blessed leaders practice and know the power of prayer. We find in the New Testament, Jesus regularly goes away to a quiet place to pray. In the Book of Acts, the disciples pray, and the Holy Spirit comes and shakes the whole place and fills them so that they can speak with boldness. Later we find Paul telling his churches to pray without ceasing. James tells the Christians to pray for healing for those who are ill. Prayer is definitely all over the Christian story. Blessed leaders understand the life-giving pattern of prayer and discernment. We are invited to prayer because when we pray, things change. We change. The world changes. And the most important relationship we have grows and deepens – the relationship with the very one who creates, calls, and claims us.
blessed leaders help us to keep everything in perspective. With humility and humor, they understand the importance of listening, learning, building relationships and having a heart of peace rather than a heart of war. In the timely book The Anatomy of Peace – resolving the heart of conflict, the authors share that when we have a heart of peace, we see the other person or group as a unique and valuable human being. We must get out of the mental box of regarding ourselves as “better than, worse than, I deserve, and how I must be seen by others.” Most of the problems in the world are related to our way of being with others—and how powerful it would be if we could do so with a heart of peace.
blessed leaders encourage us to live a life of gratitude. It’s so important to bring gratitude to the forefront of our daily lives—not just during special holidays or when things are going well, but all year long, even in the midst of the messiness of life. Living a life of gratitude is a choice. Life doesn’t have to be perfect in order for us to give thanks – we can choose to be grateful, regardless of our circumstances. A grateful heart sees each day as a gift. This is the perfect time for each of us to write, call and express our thanks to those who, in the past and present, bless our lives – to pass it on as blessed leaders. I was recently waiting in a long line in my car at Panera’s restaurant making sure I had the correct amount of change to pay at the window. In my frustration, I dropped a part of the coins I held in my hand. The young person in the drive said: “don’t worry, the car in front of you just bought your breakfast.” I paused to give thanks, laughed, and reflected upon the many unexpected blessings we have on the journey of life. Let’s pass it on!
we are reminded
The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:5b-7).