Today, on my sermon blog, I posted the last sermon from my sermon series “How can I keep from Singing?” The title for the sermon series comes from one of my favorite hymns “My Life Flows On – How Can I keep from Singing.” I started the series in mid-September and finished in November.
The sermon series was my attempt to wrestle with a subject that is at the heart of what I think is wrong with many United Methodist churches in the United States today. When I started full time ministry, it was clear that leadership was being lifted up as the solution to our perceived problems as a church. With books, conferences, speakers all preaching the good news of leadership I got the impression that the leaders in my annual conference saw our perceived problems stemming from a lack of leadership.
Books, conferences, and speakers somehow would give us the solution. Perhaps if we had the “right knowledge,” or started doing the “right things,” we could reverse the perceived trends of decline. At first this made sense. It offered a comforting way of looking at the problems that I perceived existed in the church. This way of thinking gave me a sense of control and power. If I know and do the right things, my leadership could save the church. With so many pastors talking about how they grew local churches and how they turned things around, I had hope.
Overtime though I started to feel uncomfortable with our understanding of leadership in the church. This narrative of leadership did not seem all that biblical or reality based. Churches that looked vital when their prized leaders were in power, looked less vital once they had new leaders. I started to wonder if the problem was more existential. Instead of worrying about issues of knowing and doing, should we be more worried about being?
I think that our fundamental problem as United Methodists in the United States is that we are not being who God calls us to be. We too often think of our faith in terms of having the right knowledge or doing the right things. The early Methodists pursued holiness, we pursue numbers in the guise of discipleship and transforming the world.
Talking about being is hard. It is philosophical. We rarely make it the topic of conversation. For a long time, I struggled with how could I preach on the subject. How do you make something so abstract, and yet intensely personal, and make it relatable in the context of a sermon?
At church camp this summer, I read Leonard Sweet’s book The Greatest Story Never and an idea for a sermon series started to take shape. His book gave a framework to explore being that might be understandable in the context of a sermon series. I decided to use the language and ideas of music and singing to talk about being who God calls us to be.
As I reflect on the sermon series, I am not sure I hit all the right notes. It is really hard to talk about being without also talking about doing. In many ways, doing stems from being, but parsing that out is hard. Whether the sermon series accomplished what I had hoped, I do feel like it would be more helpful to focus on being who God calls us to be as a church than to focus on leadership.