One of the things I love about introducing myself to a new congregation is that it gives you an opportunity to reflect on what is important to you. Each congregation wants to learn what I focus on, what is important to me in ministry, and where I believe God is leading us. That is important for the congregation to live into, but it is also important for me, as a pastor and follower of Christ, to reflect on and share.
There are many things that I value and hold as important in ministry. Among those is my belief that living sacramentally enables us to grow as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. This is more than just making sure that the church is celebrating communion and baptism. It is about living into their meaning and how they apply to our spiritual lives.
At our baptism, whether as an infant or an adult, we make a commitment to the witness of Christ, the church, and our fellowship with one another. Baptism is about entering into a covenant with God and other believers where we are identifying ourselves with the promises of God and desiring to live into a transformed life in Christ’s love.
In the United Methodist Church, we make a promise to be faithful to God as a response to God’s grace at work in our lives and desire to share God’s love in the world. That promise is lived out in specific ways through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
What do those commitments mean? How do we live them out?
When we think of commitment to pray, we are making a promise that we will pray for the church and its mission. Prayer is the engine and life blood to everything that we do as a people of God and community of faith. We cannot be the church without prayer surrounding our work. Our commitment to pray is our collective promise that we will pray for the church, its leaders, the pastor, and for God to move us to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community. We need your prayers, so that we may live out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ here in our community.
At baptism, we’ve also made a promise to be present in the ministry of the church. We like to overlook this promise and commitment by saying that the church is optional and voluntary. That is not the community Christ called us into. Jesus calls us to be in community with other believers for prayer, worship, discipleship, and mission. We are not to live on our own as disciples, nor are we to see worship or participation in the church as something we do when we have the time. Our presence is needed for our own spiritual growth, because our life in Christ is strengthened as we are in relationship with other believers. As well, our presence is needed to encourage the entire community to be the hands and feet of Christ. Our presence is important.
So, too, are our gifts to support and sustain the mission and ministry of the church. We get uncomfortable when pastors or other church leaders talk about money, because we think it is a private matter. We feel like we are being given a sales pitch to “keep the doors open.” Giving, though, is more than that. It is about our participation in the mission and living out the life of the early church. Acts 2:42 shares how the early church shared everything in common to support and sustain the mission of the church. As well, passage after passage calls us to remember what we have is not our own, but given to us to bless and share in the mission of God. Through our baptismal vows, we’ve made a promise to share our resources (finances, talents, etc.) to enable effective ministry to take place in our community (no matter how much it is that we give).
When we talk about service, we are bringing to mind how we have made a commitment to give of our time to the mission of the church. There is an old adage that 20 percent do the work of the entire body, and I am entirely thankful for those who willingly give of their time to sustain and enable the mission and ministry of the church. Our promise, however, is that we are called to give of our time and energy to live out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. There are many ways that one can serve within the church and beyond the walls of the church. Our promise, though, is to find the opportunities to share God’s grace by the giving of our time and energy.
Finally, we have made a commitment to God and one another to give witness to Christ’s love. This means we are called to share the story of God’s holy love. We do this with our words, our actions, and deeds. We do this by telling people about the mission of the church. We do this by living out the mission of the church. We should never grow tired of finding opportunities to give witness to God’s love, because there are opportunities to do so all around us.
These are the commitments that we have made, together, as followers of Christ. What would it look like if the people of the church lived out these commitments? Can you imagine what kind of church, and what kind of community, it would be if that happened?
It would be the true picture of the early church, which gathered together for prayer, fellowship, sharing of resources, communion, worship, and to live into the mission of Christ in their community. We would be change agents who are truly making disciples of Jesus Christ.