Lessons for the Church at Sears

My grandmother has this fascination with buying Christmas presents early. I want to appreciate that in her, but something has always made me shrug my shoulders when in August and September she lovingly asks, “What do you think Noah wants for Christmas.”

Now, take me back to the days of getting the Sears’ Wish Book in the mail and I can promise you I had a different reaction. We looked forward to receive the catalog each year. When it arrived, we would turn through the catalog’s pages as if it we were on a shopping spree filled with endless wonders. We would circle our desired items and eagerly wait for Christmas morning.

I still have never got the electronic football field game.

On Monday, a part of the American experience came to an end. Once the nation’s largest retailer, Sears Holdings filled for bankruptcy protection in a move that was long expected for the struggling commercial giant. The filling sets in motion a series of developments that will lead to the closing of 142 stores and other changes.

While business writers and economists will talk about what Sears’ bankruptcy filing means for the economy or, even, the upcoming midterm elections, I’m left wondering what lessons the church can take from the bankruptcy. There are warning signs for the church within Sears’ bankruptcy.

For one, at the root of Sears’ struggles is a legacy of trying to maintain its current business model without much adaptation to reach new people. Since Sears’ lost the title of “America’s top retailer” to Wal-Mart in the 1990s, the company has been trying different approaches with the same goal in mind: Get back to its once lofty position in the American consumer market.

What Sears failed to realize was how the market was changing, especially with the advent of online shopping and retail stores that were more targeted to specific segments of the economy. It struggled to adapt and maintained a large presence in the “big box” store mindset of having people come to them.

The church, especially in the United States, has a similar problem. One of our struggles is how to adapt to the world around us. We are in the midst of a historic seismic shift in the way people think and approach religion. At the same time, we are seeing changes in the culture, especially in how people receive information and engage with one another. This is a 500-year shift in how we think and approach community life that is the equivalent to the changes that took place prior to the Reformation.

In response, we are struggling to appropriately adapt to the changes. Many of our activities with the culture are centered around a mindset of “doing the things we’ve always done … but better” mindset. We are more concerned with maintaining the status quo, and often believe that if we do so that we will also reach new people. The two cross each other out. We cannot continue to do the same things, especially if they are not working to reach people, and expect them to work.

What adaptations Sears did undertake, in the last 20 years, was centered on consolidation and assuring loyal customers would remain loyal. There was limited outreach to gain new consumers for their stories.

One of the biggest decisions for Sears in that time frame, beyond today’s announcements, was the acquisition of Kmart in 2005. The merger was intended to promote a larger outreach and a renewed vitality for the retailers, but in time only led to a weaker product. Sears was left to deal with under-performing stores in bad locations. The move led to the company beginning a slow process of closing stores, while also trying to maintain its customer base.

It didn’t work.

The church struggles with the same temptation to try new things that only end up reaching the same people. A merger, for instance, of Sears and Kmart only benefited those who favored shopping at those stories. It wasn’t going to move people who didn’t like shopping in giant stores to come their way. It was an internal move that led to disastrous internal responses.

Many of our conversations in the church only pertain to those who are already part of our communities, especially when it comes to outreach. When we talk about reaching new people, often what we really mean is we want to encourage those who have left to come back home. While that kind of outreach is important and needed, what we often forget about is the important bridge-building work that needs to be done to share the love of Jesus Christ with those who believe there is nothing for them in the community of faith.

Like Sears, what often hinders us from having those conversations are concerns about resources and money. The church, today, spends a large amount of our resources making sure we have enough money in the offering plate to support our work. The conversation, though, is about maintaining what we are doing, because by the time we get to doing missions and outreach there is seldom enough time, because our focus is on making sure the church doesn’t close its doors.

Jesus doesn’t call us to a Sears-type ministry. In fact, Jesus calls us into a ministry and mission where the harvest is plentiful. To reach the generation that is in front of us will require us to adapt our missional engagements to be more effective. The message of Jesus Christ never changes, but how we reach people and share that love may need to look different in order to share that love.

If we are unwilling to make the necessary adaptations, the stories written about the church in the future may be the same written, today, about Sears: A once mighty cornerstone of the community that was never able to keep up with the times.

Advertisements

What Pastors Can Learn from The Presidents

Today is President’s Day. It is the day we honor the 43 men who have served as the head of state and chief executive for our nation.

Throughout our history, we have seen a wide variety of individuals occupy the office. We’ve had military leaders, former athletes, some who struggled with family and personal issues, leaders of high ethics, leaders of limited morality, and an actor to name a few. Each president has added something to the office and to our understanding of  leadership.

As a pastor, I also believe we can learn something about effective and vital leadership through expressions of leadership given by the presidents. A president leads in a vacuum and must serve, through many challenges and obstacles, with the hope of bringing the nation closer to an intended good. As pastors, we too seek to lead our people, though many challenges and obstacles, to what it means to be holy as God calls us to be and to serve the world in response to God’s love. The ways  we see the presidents lead can help us, as leaders in the church, serve God and our communities. Continue reading

We Are Called

Eleven years.

Eleven years. That is how long I worked, in some way, in the media profession. I started when I was 16 as a part-time sports reporter for the newspaper in Beckley, W.Va. I would later work as a writer for newspapers or policy organizations in Morgantown, W.Va., Clarksburg, W.Va., Shelby, N.C., and Chapel Hill, N.C. I was able to do a lot in my journalism career. I interviewed a governor after he admitted to an affair, was yelled at by a number of coaches, and had NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick leave an interview with me and a few other reporters. It wasn’t my fault.

Though I have many great memories from my journalism career what often defined my career was a feeling that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn’t fulfilled deep in the core of my being. Sure, I wrote well and could cover any topic from high school wrestling to state budget negotiations with ease, but it wasn’t me. This was a frustrating realization for someone who from a young age wanted to do nothing but work as a writer.

It was this realization, along with several things that were going on in my life at the time, that led me to finally ask God, “What am I called to do?” The answer to this question led me to leave my comfortable life in North Carolina to take on the challenge that God has set before me in Kentucky. The realization was that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to. I was called to do something else with my life. This calling to be a pastor was one that I had run from, perhaps unknowingly, for a long time.

The nature of calling is central to Christian discipleship. All of us have been called by God in one way or another. At its most basic element, a calling is essentially how we are to live in response to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Author Gordon T. Smith speaks of each of us having three specific callings. The first is to love God. We are called to love God in response to the love God has shown us. The second is our passions. We’ll talk more about this in a bit, but when we think of passions we are thinking about those things that God has gifted us to do or has broken our heart about. It is those things that stir our emotions. Finally, the third calling is how we live out the first two in our lives. Our third calling is about the ways we will love God and uses these gifts and passions each day.

None of us are exempt from being called by God in some way. We may not have recognized or known it, but, yet, God has called us for a specific purpose to fulfill a specific thing in the kingdom of God. With this, we can relate to the prophet Jeremiah. Our passage is a recounting of his calling by God to serving as a prophet. Jeremiah would go on to serve as a prophet who challenged the people in how they lived in response to God’s ways in the days and years before the Exile.

What this passage is, then, is Jeremiah looking back and remembering God’s call upon his life, a call that was often difficult and placed him with few supporters. This sense of call comforted him in those difficult times. Jeremiah’s remembrance of his calling says something to us today. What exactly calls us to look deeply within these words. We might even be willing to ask ourselves this question: What might God be calling me, us, and our church to today?

The remembrance looks back to Jeremiah’s youth, but even well before that. We are told that before Jeremiah was born that God created in him certain gifts and talents that would be useful in fulfilling God’s purposes. Think about the meaning of this statement. Before Jeremiah was born, God knew Jeremiah, loved him, and gave him gifts, skills, and talents, that would benefit the kingdom of God. The Lord also consecrated him, which mean that God had prepared him to do this specific task. God’s grace was with Jeremiah well before he knew who God was in forming him to being the person the Lord needed him to be.

All of us have had this experience. Before we were born, God formed in each of us various gifts, talents, and passions. Some of us are gifted with great abilities in financial stewardship. Some of us are gifted with passions for children and youth. Some of us are gifted with talents of writing, teaching, building, and so many other things. No matter what our talents are they come from God to be used in service to Christ and to all the world.

Our identity as followers of Christ is defined by this very truth. We are called to love God and serve Christ and others out of this love. God didn’t gift us so that we would become rich by the world’s standards, but so that we might become rich in the Lord’s love in sharing the Good News through our words, actions, and deeds to the world.

It is an overwhelming reality to think God loved us enough to create in us gifts and talents to be used within the kingdom. It was overwhelming for Jeremiah. As the call narrative goes on, Jeremiah tries to find every reason why God has the wrong person in mind. Jeremiah says that he doesn’t know what needs to be said. He also says that he is too young. Jeremiah’s objections are similar to those we read from Moses when he learns of God’s calling upon his life. Jeremiah did not feel capable of the massive responsibility God had entrusted him with.

We can relate to this. The desires God has for us are overwhelming, challenging, and difficult. It is not easy to follow what God asks of us. So, much like Jeremiah we come up with excuses why God is not really asking us to do the overwhelming, challenging, and difficult.  Do any of these excuses sound familiar? God, I can’t do what you are asking, because I am just too busy. God, I just don’t have the training to do what you ask. God, you have the wrong person.

These same excuses echo within the halls of our churches. God, we’re not big enough as a church to do the mission you have called us to. God, our budget is way too small to do what you desire. God, the community around us is just too difficult to reach, so you must be mistaken.
We all have made excuses to God. Here’s the thing: God does not want our excuses. Instead, the Lord desires a willing heart. With a willing heart, God can do so much in and through us to change the world. What might God do in us, in our church, in Latonia, in Covington, and throughout Northern Kentucky, if we let down our guard, let go of our excuses, and say, “Here I am Lord … send me.”

If we are willing, there is a promise within Jeremiah’s call statement for us. God will prepare us and guide the way. That is the message given to Jeremiah and us to not be fearful of what God asks of us. God tells Jeremiah to not be afraid and, even more, that he would protect him. God’s guidance would be with Jeremiah and us as we go out into the mission field to serve Christ and others. God goes with us in place we go and in every way we seek to use our gifts and talents. Yes, the mission is difficult, but with God’s presence with us we have nothing to fear.

Something else is comforting for Jeremiah and us in these words. Jeremiah recalls that God touched him and put the words in his mouth. God’s guidance never left him and he equipped Jeremiah for the mission to speak the difficult words to the people. What Jeremiah said was spoken to him first by God. The same is true of us. God speaks in us the things to say, the missions to undertake, and the people to love. God equips us to do the work of the church. We do not have to go to seminary to be in ministry. We do not have to know everything there is to know about church leadership. All that is needed is a desired to be used by God, a willingness to learn and grown, and a desire to go out and serve Christ by the way we love and serve others.

In your bulletin, this morning, you received a copy of our Lay Leadership survey for the coming year. It is a tool that will help us to pray and discern about our leadership needs for 2014 and beyond. Admittedly, it is easy to look at this process as a mere formality, to check the box, and fill in all the spaces and move on to something else. This would be easy to do, and, admittedly, something I have done in the past. What if we did something courageous, something unique, something challenging? What if we used this time to ask God what he might be calling us to do? What if instead of simply filling in the blanks, we asks God how we might enhance the ministry God seeks to do here at Trinity? What if we asked ourselves how we might help in making disciples of all people in the name of Jesus Christ?

There is something for each of us to do, out of our talents, to serve Christ, the church, and love others. All of us have a part to play in helping the church to be the living witness of Jesus Christ in Latonia, Covington, Northern Kentucky, and throughout the world.

God forms us. God calls us. God equips us. Yes, the work is challenging. Yes, the work is overwhelming. Yes, the work is costly. The work and the mission of serving Christ through the gifts God has given us is holy, powerful, and life changing.

God has given each of us gifts and talents to serve the mission. We have been formed for a purpose. What is your part? What has God been calling you to do that you’ve made excuse after excuse in order not to do? What is God calling Trinity to do in Latonia?

Truly God has called us. Where are we willing to do for the Lord in response?

Acts 1: God Forms Leaders

Beginning today I will be writing a daily devotional for Trinity UMC based on our daily Scripture reading. It is my hope that these devotions will be posted each morning before 9 a.m., and will serve as a way to produce some thoughts on God and what God desires for us.

Acts 1 is the start of Luke’s second New Testament book. It is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke and picks up the story of Jesus and the disciples at the Ascension. Luke describes a beautiful scene where Jesus ascends to his place at God’s right hand. Jesus doesn’t leave the disciples without reminding them that there is much work to be done in sharing the Good News of Jesus’ love. A work that would take the church, he says, to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and throughout all the world.

Luke tells us the disciples leave the Ascension and wait for coming of the Holy Spirit, who would guide them in this mission. They are also still wrestling with Judas’ betrayal. The disciples knew a new apostle needed to be named. After a time of prayer and casting lots, Mathias was chosen as the newest apostle.

Mathias was part of the 120 followers gathered with the disciples. He was someone who had a relationship with the Lord. Now, Mathias was being called to trust and go where the Lord was calling him. Out of his relationship with Christ Mathias was now being asked to share the Good News and to serve as a leader in the church.

Did you catch that? The relationship Mathias had with the Lord shaped him into the leader God wanted him to be.

That is the great thing about our Lord. God creates in us passions, desires, and gifts that can be used to share the Good News and live for God’s kingdom. When we are in a relationship with the Lord, we start to see more of these passions and see how God has gifted us to serve the Lord and care for the world.

All of us are called by God to use our gifts in service to others. Some, like Mathias, are called to be leaders. Some are called to do other important things in the life of the church. We each have a role to play in our mission of “making disciples of all people” in the name of Jesus Christ.

What gifts have God given you? Where can you use your talents to share the Good News of Jesus’ love with our neighbors? How might you be willing to be used by Mathias, today, for the kingdom?

Leadership and Sound Teaching Needed to Avoid a Partisan Church

One of my favorite movies is “The American President.” It is a classic comedy that tells the story of President Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas, and his attempt to date lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade, portrayed by Annette Bening, while balancing his job and re-election campaign.

Of course, Shepherd struggles with the balancing act and his popularity declines, unfortunately for him during a time when his administration is attempting to pass a crime bill and legislation that would protect the environment. This creates some tension in his staff, especially with Lewis Rothschild, played by Michael J. Fox, who is his assistant for domestic policy. In a key Oval Office scene, Rothschild confronts Shepherd regarding his declining popularity and how Republican Bob Rumson, played by Richard Dreyfuss, has controlled the narrative by attacking the president’s relationship. In response, Shepherd offers one of the best lines in the movie.

He says:

Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.

That last sentence has been on my mind this week. The reason is because the church had an unfortunate reminder of what happens when our political engagement is too closely aligned with our political views. Even with my deep appreciation of public theology, like others I find myself wondering how some in the church miss it when it comes to engaging our political leaders, while others get it right.

When I think about how followers of Christ can allow their political witness to be more aligned with their political party than their walk with Christ, I think about Shepherd’s response to Rothschild. It is appropriate and telling. I believe the reason why the church falls short in its political witness is because we are not teaching what it means to appropriately engage the public square. In the absence of leadership and teaching, people will follow whatever seems right.

It is a leadership issue, foremost, because too often leaders in the church are guilty of leading their communities into strict adherence to one’s favored political ideology. Instead of seeing where Christ challenges Democrats and Republicans, a leader will only focus on that which supports their intended ideology. This is not Christian leadership. It is partisan politics, and it has no place in the life of the church.

Leaders must be willing to engage the political process. We do so by challenging our leaders, seeking them to be people of high morals and integrity, and to advocate social and economic justice. This is why I appreciate Adam Hamilton’s sermon at Tuesday’s National Prayer Service. Hamilton’s words were an appropriate interaction with the political process. It was challenging, while at the same time optimistic in calling our leaders to be visionary in their service.

This is also an issue of discipleship. We are not doing a good job teaching what it means to be a follower of Christ. Because of this, people will look for clues of how to follow Christ through the world, which leads to our political engagement to look more like the world than like Christ.

Discipleship must be at the center of our ministries. This is not simply discipleship of how God loves you and wants you to be happy. It is more than that. It is discipleship that centers on the truth of Christ, what that truth means, and how it applies to our lives and our world. We must take seriously our theology and sharing that theology with our people.

Until we have stronger leadership that appropriately engages political issues and take seriously our call to equip our congregations through teaching theology, we will continue to have problems with pastors and churches being too partisan in their witness. These actions only harms the greater mission of the church and prevents the entire body from spreading the love of Christ.

My prayer is that the church will no longer reflect Democratic and Republican values, but instead reflects the love and truth of Christ and what this means in the public square.

What Abraham Lincoln Teaches Pastors About Leadership

Abraham Lincoln is the country’s greatest president. His achievements in four years in office are many. To name a few, Lincoln guided the Union to victory in the Civil War, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and guided the Thirteenth Amendment’s passage in Congress.

Lincoln is an important leader to study and understand. This is especially true for pastors who are interested in improving how they lead their respective churches. Lincoln offers a great case study for pastors wanting to effectively and gracefully lead their communities.

Here are five key leadership attributes pastors can learn from studying Lincoln.

Lincoln did not compromise who he was. Lincoln was a storyteller. He had an anecdote for every situation. The stories had a purpose. They helped to articulate Lincoln’s position on various issues, such as how to prosecute the end of the war. That doesn’t mean that they were always appreciated. Lincoln’s stories were sometimes met with disdain by members of his cabinet. They felt Lincoln’s storytelling was undignified, but Lincoln never stopped telling stories. He remained true to who he was.

That is an important lesson for a pastor. Many pastors get caught up in “being” like someone else. So much so that we forget to “be” the person and leader God desires us to be. True leadership must be authentic for it to inspire others. For instance, I am a writer. If I was to stop writing and focus my abilities on artistic expressions of faith, which I am not gifted to do, I would not be true to myself. I would suffer, because I am not doing something God has called me to do, and my church would suffer because they are not being authentically led. Pastors should learn from others, but it must not keep us from using the gifts God has given us.

Lincoln did not allow obstacles to become permanent. From what we can learn of Lincoln’s childhood, Lincoln faced difficult circumstances. His father put him to work for others. His mother died at an early age. He had a limited formal education. The obstacles continued as Lincoln became an attorney and politician. He incurred debt from a business deal. He was removed from an important case in Cincinnati and had his counsel ignored by Edwin Stanton, who was one of the case’s key attorneys. He was defeated by Stephen Douglas to represent Illinois in the Senate.

With each obstacle, Lincoln never lost his focus or ambition. He educated himself. He paid off his debt. He learned from other lawyers. He kept active in politics. Each obstacle provided Lincoln an opportunity to learn and grow. Lincoln never allowed these moments to become permanent distractions.

Pastors can get caught up in their own obstacles. There are many obstacles in a pastor’s life that range from the personal to the pastoral. Pastors have a tendency to make these obstacles a crippling millstone. These obstacles end up harming our ministries and cripple our effectiveness to lead. Pastors must be willing to learn from the difficult moments that impact our lives. An effective pastor does not allow obstacles to become defining attributes.

Lincoln was not afraid to place strong leaders in major roles. When Lincoln was elected in 1860, he faced the problem of being relatively unknown. He was also not seen as the leader of his own party. That position was held by William Seward, whom Lincoln defeated for the Republican Party nomination. Recognizing his weaknesses and the need for capable leaders in his cabinet, Lincoln appointed his rivals to key positions in his administration. Seward became his Secretary of State. Salmon Chase, who never lost sight of his own presidential ambition, was named Secretary of Treasury. Edward Bates would be Lincoln’s Attorney General and Montgomery Blair would serve as the Postmaster General. Lincoln even named Stanton, the same person who refused to accept his counsel, as Secretary of War. Each of these men could have been president in their own right, but came to appreciate Lincoln’s leadership strength.

In appointing his rivals to important cabinet posts, Lincoln showed confidence and humility. Lincoln knew who he was, both in his strengths and weaknesses. He was confident enough to appoint others who were perceived to be more capable. Lincoln was not easily intimated or influenced by the views and opinions of others. At the same time, Lincoln showed great humility. He knew he had weaknesses and needed the help of others to lead the country.

Every pastor should have confidence and humility. Pastors should have confidence in their talents and be willing to share leadership with others who are gifted and talented. This doesn’t mean that pastors skirt from their responsibilities, but that they allow others to participate in leading the church. Pastors should also be humble enough to recognize their weaknesses. Often, pastors will try to lead in every area and not ask for help. This is the cause of burnout for many pastors. Pastors must be able to step aside and give opportunities to people who are more suited for a given task.

Lincoln took time to make a decision. During his four years in office, Lincoln faced several difficult decisions. Most important was the decision Lincoln had to make about slavery. When he entered office, Lincoln’s main concern was the preservation of the Union. That was his main goal, but he was also concerned about slavery and wanted it to end.

Lincoln waited a year before fully addressing the issue of slavery. He had to think through his own views about ending slavery and had to wait for the right time to make a decision. The radical base of his party felt Lincoln was too slow in addressing slavery, while others felt he shouldn’t address it. When Lincoln announced his desire to end slavery and sign the Emancipation Proclamation, he did not waver. The decision defined his presidency and the Civil War.

Pastors today believe quick action is the sign of an effective leader. This is perhaps in keeping with our fast-paced culture. If a decision is not made immediately, we believe people will doubt our leadership or say we are not moving fast enough. Leadership patience is not a virtue many pastors have. Pastors would be wise to take time to think through a given issue. This leaves room for a pastor to spend time in prayer and to hear God’s desires.

Lincoln was always learning. Lincoln had a deep passion for education. He always wanting to learn and to grow in his knowledge of different topics. This included learning about military strategy and theology.

Lincoln’s education in these two areas served him well. His military self-education on helped him to realize that many of his generals were failing to understand the Confederate army. He became an active commander-in-chief primarily because of his own understanding of the military. Lincoln also grew in his faith throughout his presidency. Prior to his election, Lincoln had faith in God but had serious doubts and questions about faith. These questions guided him to learn more about theology and faith. This time of study helped him to craft a Second Inauguration Address that set the tone for reconciliation between the North and South.

Pastors must be leaders who learn. This education must go beyond sermon preparation. Learning must include personal growth in our faith in Christ and learning about different theological topics. At the same time, pastors must learn about the issues that our communities face. For instance, we cannot lead through a time of economic crisis if we are not willing to learn about what caused the current crisis.

Lincoln is an important American figure and leader. He has inspired generations through his words that defined the Civil War as not just a battle between North and South, but a battle between right and wrong. Lincoln’s leadership qualities, those listed and not listed, should be studied by anyone in leadership, especially pastors who seek to effectively lead their churches and communities of faith.

Why Schism is Not an Answer

A schism is when there is a formal division in the body of Christ. It occurs when rival factions – or theological perspectives – believe that they can no longer share Christian fellowship with each other. Instead of working through their differences or attempting to come to a resolution an agreement is made for the two groups to go their separate ways.

Schisms can impact both the larger body of Christ and its representations in local communities. The body of Christ has been torn apart throughout the centuries of the church. Most notable was the Great East-West Schism of 1054, which created the separation of the eastern and western wings of the church. Schisms have led to the number of our various denominations in the United States and the break-ups of many churches in our communities.

These are hurtful moments in the life of the church. The United Methodist Church is not immune from schisms. In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery. The two would reunify, along with the Methodist Protestant Church which had split off in an early schism regarding in 1939 to form the Methodist Church. (The United Methodist Church would be formed in 1968 by the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church).

As the United Methodist Church gathers in Tampa for General Conference, there are some who desire for the United Methodist Church to split along theological lines. The issue that is driving this is homosexuality. On the theological left are those who desire homosexuals to have a place in the ordination process. On the theological right are those wanting the church to maintain its position that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture.

The United Methodist Church has faced this challenge before and overcome it. Throughout this General Conference it appears the fear is more prevalent now than ever before. But, is it appropriate? Is schism the answer to deep theological and practical difference between the left and right wings of the church?

I believe the answer to this question is no.

If we were to advocate a schism, or even have it on our mind in our discussions, then we are saying that it is impossible to be the body together. Even more, we are refusing to come to the table and hear from the other side. We must be willing to hear from each other and, most importantly, listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We cannot be defined by our desires and then threaten to leave when those desires are not met.

At the same time, a schism takes the dangerous approach to say it is only with our group , and people who believe like us, that Jesus is truly alive and believed. It is wrong to use God in an “us versus them” way. By doing this, we deny our very calling to be in a fellowship of Christian love with one another.

How can we be witnesses of Christ’s love for a broken world if we are unwilling to be witnesses of Christ’s love with each other? Yes, we should “speak the truth in love” and be willing to engage difficult issues, but it must be done in a way that seeks the Father’s will, and not our own. We must be guided by the Holy Spirit and not our own wishes. When we do, I believe, we will be effectives witnesses of Christ’s love.

As leaders in the church, let us put aside our talk and fear of schism and work together, as the body of Christ, to “make disciples of all people.”