Some thoughts from Paul in Second Corinthians chapter 10 verses 12-13, 15, 18 (Wesley Study Bible NRSV):
“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep with the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you…our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged,…For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.”Now maybe, these words really struck me because I had just finished reading about John the Baptist, in the beginning of Luke, and it was very clear that his calling was to be the one who prepared the way, even though there were others who wondered. Maybe it’s because of all of the buzz that has gone on since General Conference. Either way, this became a real “ah-ha” moment for me this morning! Classifying and comparing with those who hold themselves up as the standard. Measuring and comparing ourselves with one another. These things were going on, even in Paul’s time, and his conclusion on the matter was “they do not show good sense.”
Isn’t that what we just attempted to legislate at General Conference? Oops! Yet, God in his goodness, managed to work through mere imperfect mortals and stop it dead in its tracks! Thank you Lord for saying NO!
So where do we go from here? Paul actually gives us a blueprint for how to proceed. He gives us the proper perspective on how to look at things. Do not “boast beyond limits.” “Keep with the field that God has assigned to each of us.” The outcome being “as a (congregation’s) faith increases, (the) sphere of action…may be greatly enlarged.” Ta da! Simple, concise, straight forward. Ya gotta love Paul, for stating the obvious plainly enough, that even today, people can grasp what he was trying to say! Bottom line, it’s not going to work unless it is what “the Lord commends”, not what we choose to commend!
Where is your field-your “sphere of action”? Your local community. Your friends, your family, your co-workers, your neighbors. Is it urban, suburban or rural? Although there are similarities, each one is unique and different. Different stresses, different focus, different interactions. What might work in a city is not necessarily going to work in the country and vice versa. That’s reality. What works in one community may not work over in the next town. My field may not look exactly the same as your field. So, for me to tell you to do things exactly the same way that I did would be crazy! There are differences or “limits” and we should respect that! I do not know your community the same way you do. I know my community and I need to do what is best for it, instead of worrying about what someone else is doing.
That doesn’t mean that we do not share ideas, thoughts and suggestions. Try the things that seem reasonable and leave the rest! It doesn’t mean that we do not strive for some consistency on our message or worship. There are certain things that make us Methodist and we need to be crystal clear on those particular points. But the actual job of ministry in our community- the way that we grow the faith of those around us, must be unique and appropriate for our community! One size can not and should not be expected to fit all!
God has assigned each of us a field. We are not meant to make them all look exactly the same. We are meant to know the field, put in what is best and nurture it so it will grow. Anyone who has ever attempted to garden understands the wisdom in this approach.
Let each of us commit to adapting an approach that actually shows good sense!