At our May Presbytery meeting, Tom Cramer highlighted several of our congregations’ creative responses to unplanned opportunities: the creation of a Korean-speaking worship service in La Mirada; the welcome of a single family in Costa Mesa that led to a Syrian fellowship; and the change of focus from young families to retirees in Laguna Woods—a change that, ironically, multiplied the number of preschool volunteers.
These congregations’ ministries did not emerge by random chance. But neither did they result from pre-planned programs. They arose when faithful followers of Jesus, who were looking for ways to bring the Gospel to life, paid attention to interruptions in their lives.
Let me repeat that last comment again: When faithful disciples, who are looking for ways to bring the Gospel to life, pay attention to moments that feel like interruptions, God’s mission goes forward in surprising and joyous ways.
Over the past several years, few interruptions facing the Presbytery have been as difficult as responding to requests for denominational dismissal. Part of that difficulty, I think, is the work’s seeming pointlessness. We cannot avoid the work, yet it feels painfully disconnected from our mission plan.
I imagine that the requesting congregations have felt a similar frustration. They too want to get on with the business of the Gospel. But we both are stuck with an apparently unavoidable demand upon our time and resources. It can feel like a terrible, wasteful interruption from God’s work.
But what if we responded to these interruptions, as painful and wasteful as they feel, as God-appointed opportunities for service, healing or transformation? And if we did, what would that look like?
Perhaps the answer begins with looking to Jesus. After all, people often interrupted Jesus.
He traveled to heal Jairus’s daughter, and a hemorrhaging woman sought relief. Both were restored (Mark 5:21-43). He sought a deserted place for his disciples to rest, and five thousand people asked for dinner. All were fed. (Mark 6:35-44). And many of Jesus’s most profound teaching moments emerged when the Pharisees (literally) interrupted him.
A strategic planner might view large parts of Mark’s Good News as a disaster. Jesus’s actions look willy-nilly, reacting to whatever claim upon his time comes up next. And yet he repeatedly moves the Gospel forward.
Jesus was not tossed around by circumstances. He used circumstances as opportunities. Everything Jesus did, he did to “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
We do our best work as Christ’s disciples when interruptions come. Your neighbor ends up in the hospital. So you visit, even though it is inconvenient, and the Gospel moves forward. Or your neighbor leaves a nasty note on your porch, so you leave flowers and a kind word in response (Proverbs 15:1; Romans 12:17). Again, the Gospel moves forward.
Our congregations’ best work also emerges in response to interruptions. So why wouldn’t it be true in the midst of the dismissal process?
And if God intends for the Gospel to go forward even now, then how might we turn this painful, distracting interruption into an opportunity, just as Jesus did so many times in Scripture?
I don’t know how. Nor do I know how the end result will look.
But I do know a few things. I know that if what we do can be explained according to secular standards, we should keep looking. I know that a God-breathed answer will surprise us. And I know that when we have responded faithfully, we will overflow “with many thanksgivings to God” (II Cor. 9:12).
I also know that many of you who read my column find our dismissal plight confusing and upsetting. How have you responded with faithful trust that God is present? In what unexpected ways have you already seen the Gospel move forward? How might we use the dismissal period to be more like the One who used every interruption to proclaim good news in word and deed?
These seem like the right questions for us to ask as we grope forward on the journey of faith. I welcome your thoughts.
Somewhere along the Way—