Things to Ponder as we head into Autumn '23

David Ruis, Sep 7, 2023, 7:35 PM
David Ruis National Director
September 2023 reflection.png

For those of you who have been in the swirl of my various and sundry musings, blogs, and reflections this last decade you may have noticed that I am a bit of a G.K. Chesterton fan. As we head into the autumn season of '23 there is something he said that I can't seem to shake.

"The problem of disbelieving in God is not that a man ends up believing nothing.
Alas, it is much worse. He ends up believing anything."

In our post COVID, technologically ubiquitous and opinionated, rights driven moment, the centering of ourselves in solid biblical hermeneutic, (healthy) communal discernment and accountability with the guard rails of wisdom, seems paramount. To stray from the anchoring these things provide puts us in a position of being motivated and driven by a kind of "disbelieving belief" that runs on the fuel of cynicism, suspicion, and fear, rather than cultivating a faith that can thrive in the midst of uncertainty and celebrate the beauty of mystery.

As we calibrate ourselves and our ministries heading into this fall season here's a few things for us to be considering given our current moment.

1. Let's rekindle a passion for the biblical narrative and get better at unpacking the text for ourselves and the communities we are serving.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."
(2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

"Repeat these essentials over and over to God's people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won't be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they're not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul."
(2 Timothy 2:15-18 The Message)

The call here is to lean into the humble posture of learning and curiosity, the pursuit of truth and cultivating the skill of teaching and discipling others. I know that there is no "one size fits all" here and we are not advocating that everyone become seminarians and brilliant orators. But a re-awakened call to become pastor-teachers in our service to the local church is much needed in these times. Whether that is accomplished through your primary calling in the church, or through the avenue of teaching teams, let us be thinking intentionally and strategically about how we are anchoring our communities, in every aspect of our gatherings, systems and services, to the written word. Kind of basic I know, but something that needs to be, as Paul said to Timothy, repeated over and over.

2. We need to continue to focus on community health and reap the fruit of the resulting communal discernment and care for one another it fosters. Our call to understanding that "health begets health" is still something that is guiding our national strategies and purpose.

"Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience. Don't be misled: No one makes a fool of God.
What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God! —harvests a crop of weeds. All he'll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God's Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. So, let's not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don't give up or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith."
(Galatians 6:6-10 The Message)

One of the lasting things that COVID and social media perpetuates within society, and that which the church does not seem to avoid, is the rise of individualism and its close cousins of unfettered autonomy, partisanship, and protectionism. There was something very good about the wake-up call of the last several years that resulted in so many of us realizing that we needed to take seriously the role of self-care in our lives. Family became something very central again and many households discovered how fractured they had become and found so much life in coming together under the restraints and restrictions that were placed upon us. Another recent phenomenon is that institutions and the power they wield have come under unprecedented scrutiny. Much of the scaffolding they have built in society, the body politic and religion continues to be rattled to the core, and rightfully so. Yet, as pendulum swings tend to do, the resulting momentum of the arc it creates can result in another extreme and move us away from the sanity and safety that equilibrium gives us.

Our prayer is that as we head into the final phase of '23 that we will continue to nurture and discover how we truly are "better together." In every sphere of who we are: our National Team; the Foundations Team; the National Listening Team; our Regions and Regional Teams; and the local churches that define us.

3. We need wisdom to guide our way more than the "right answers" to provide solutions to the challenges we face. As we have often said, we are on a "step by step" journey.

"Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding."
(Proverbs 4:6-7 NIV)

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."
(James 3:17 NIV)

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."
(Matthew 6:34 The Message)

We began this year, as we do per annum, with a national communal time of fasting and prayer. Out of this time there were several recurring, and dare I say, relentless themes that keep coming up repeatedly across the country.

A. Stay the course. Step by step.

B. Be ready to pivot. Timing is critical. A patient ferment marked by the courage to wait and yet an agility to respond in a mere moment when change is upon us.

C. Our understanding and perception of Jesus is very key. Christology does matter. As those committed to a Trinitarian understanding of the nature of God, Jesus is the clear image of that which is invisible to us. Let us fix our eyes on Him. Author. Finisher. Beginning. End. Full stop.

D. Integration is key. Our national theme in 2015 was "From Silo's to Integration." We are still fleshing this out and continue to  be aware of how critical this posture is in developing healthy leaders and thriving communities as a national family.

E. Pay attention to interpersonal conflict. These are not things to simply brush off or hope they'll sort themselves out. As Romans 12:17-19 challenges in The Message, "Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. 'I'll do the judging,' says God. 'I'll take care of it.'" Or, in wording we may be more familiar with, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18)

It is the cultivation of wisdom that will allow us to keep step with the Spirit and what He is speaking to us right now. Lean in.

I am praying for you. We, the Foundations Team, and the National Team, are praying for you. Looking forward to hearing from you as to where the Lord is taking you this fall.

Step by step.