Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.
September 12, 2017
With Heart, Soul, and Mind:
What Does It Mean to Wear A Christian Cross?
For many years now, I've worn a wooden cross around my neck. It is made of olive wood and comes from an area around Bethlehem. I received it as a gift from someone years ago while I was working for Catholic Charities. For me it symbolizes my commitment and connection to the Christian faith. It is a
simple way of saying, "I am a disciple of Jesus Christ"..."I'm a follower of the Way." Perhaps you wear or carry a representation of your faith as well.
But what does carrying a symbol like this really mean? And...if someone saw one of us in the street, would they know we are Christians by how we act? Or in my case, would they first have to notice my wooden cross before they could determine if I was a Christian or not? In other words, is my faith real...or symbolic in nature? I pray that others wouldn't depend on seeing a physical symbol first before deciding if I am a Christ-follower. But this raises an interesting...and fundamental...point. How do people know who we are and what we believe?
Some time ago, I was in a cabinet conversation in which we were discussing what it means for the United Methodist Church's mission to be to "make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." As a part of the discussion, we were talking about what we could do at the annual conference level to help local church's support this mission in practical ways.
During our conversation I got to thinking about how students with special needs in our public schools each have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) as a part of their educational plan. I wondered if the concept of an IEP might be of use to us in the church as we consider discipleship. You see, an IEP is a written document that is developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education. The IEP is created through a team effort and reviewed at least once a year with the goal being to help children with special needs succeed in school.
At the time this conversation took place, I said that I thought it was unfortunate that in the school system only children with special needs have an IEP. Why not everyone? It seems to me that this is an educational tool that should be a part of every child's learning process.
Some of you may be familiar with a similar concept in certain work settings. In some places, there are what is called IDPs, Individual Development Plans. In a similar fashion as an IEP, an IDP's primary purpose is to help employees reach short and long-term career goals, as well as improve current job performance. In short, an IDP is not a performance evaluation tool, but a long term professional activity.
So what if we did something similar in terms of the church? If Christian discipleship is central to who we
are as people of faith, wouldn't it make sense for each of us to be intentional in our faith/spiritual development? I can almost hear John Wesley's English accent ringing in my ears right now. Wouldn't it make sense for each of us to have our very own ISDP? You know, have our own Individual Spiritual Development Plan?
If we each had an ISDP, it would be the place where we could go from time-to-time to reflect on where we are at in our spiritual formation...and where we'd like to be in terms of our Christian growth. It may seem at first glance to be...well, to be too methodical, but at the same time it seems so fundamentally Wesleyan doesn't it?
If we each created our own ISDP, we could begin to ask ourselves a number of important faith questions, such as:
- How am I practicing the spiritual disciplines of praying, giving, and serving in my life?
- How do I tend to my inner life and use my public voice?
- How am I honoring my personal covenants with others...those with my family, my faith community, the larger community, and with people in need?
- How do I embody compassion, empathy, kindness and gentleness in my life?
In short, what's going on with my Christian journey? In some ways, Wesley's movement accomplished this purpose as people shared how it was with their soul in community with others. Wesley didn't call his process ISDPs. They were class meetings. But these early Methodist meetings served this very purpose by getting to the essentials of the faith journey. So how do you know if you are making progress in your walk with Christ? What are the signs that people would notice before seeing the cross hanging around your neck...or tattooed on your arm?
When St. Benedict wrote his "rule of life" centuries ago, he listed a number of tools or instruments,
ranging from "not to love much talking" to "praying for one's enemies in the love of Christ" as things we can do to embody our faith in practical ways. He called them "tools of the spiritual craft" to be used unceasingly day and night. For St. Benedict, he saw the monastery as the workshop for performing these tasks in life. Wesley took these "tools of the spiritual craft" out of the monastery and said that they could be used by all of us in our daily lives. But...unless we have an intentional way of keeping track of how we are doing with our "spiritual craft," people will be more focused on the symbols of our faith rather than on the actions of our lives.
So maybe there is a place for having an ISDP...an Individual Spiritual Development Plan...in our lives.In fact, would using such a tool help each of us walk the Christian walk in a more authentic way?
School is back in session. Maybe it's time for all of us to prepare for a new season of personal growth and development...and make our plans intentional. I can see John Wesley smiling now!
Let us walk in the light of God's love,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.