FBC Lawrence Secondary Menu

How Are We Called to Form?

Matthew 16.21-28

Today’s Scripture passage is an echo of the very first days of Jesus’ ministry.

In the beginning of the Gospels, Jesus is baptized, and a voice from heaven declares that he is the Son of God. And then immediately, he is ushered into a time of temptation, in which he is forced to define himself and his ministry apart from the temptations of power and greed and prestige. He has to set boundaries of who he will be.

In this passage, Peter has just proclaimed again that Jesus is the Son of God. Then almost immediately, he starts to explain to his disciples that this will mean that he will have to go to Jerusalem and be killed. Peter pulls him aside and politely explains that they simply aren’t going to allow that to happen. They have his back. They will protect him. Sounds great, right? But, Jesus’ response is striking. He turns to Peter and says “get behind me Satan!” Jesus, convinced of who he is and who he is not, rebukes Peter, saying in essence, “this is who I am and have to be. Don’t tempt me to give up my identity.” To Jesus’ ears, Peter has become the Satan, the accuser, a distraction and to his mission and identity, tempting him that he can both be the Messiah and take the easy way out – and not have to die. Peter the Rock becomes Simon the stumbling block.

This conversation has tremendous implications for our conversation about what spiritual formation looks like. Remember, there are a lot of ways out there to do spiritual formation. There are a lot of ways out there to do Christian spiritual formation. Think of every church and para-church organization and all of the different ways that they choose to be faithful to the Gospel in their own way. It is critical for us to know, in the middle of that dizzying array of options, who we are and who we are not. What are our boundaries?

We simply cannot be the church of all things to all people. We cannot be the church of the 80 person youth group, and the church where everyone knows everyone else by name. We cannot be the church that does every program under the sun and expect people to show up to all of them, and be the church that teaches with integrity about Sabbath and rest.

So, in the process of setting our identity, of naming our priorities, the Spiritual Formation ministry has been defining what they have called their Five Points of priority. You heard two of them last week.

One, I challenged us to be holistic in our spiritual formation: the Church of the Whole Wheel, and not just one of the spokes. Instead of seeing our faith as simply one of the dynamics of our complex life, we are to see it as the whole thing. That spiritual formation and following Christ has an impact on our physical selves, our social selves, our mental selves, our emotional selves. Not just one spoke, but the whole wheel.

Two, I challenged us to spiritual formation that is dialogue-based and questioning and open to conversation and doubts: the Church of the Holy Sandpaper, recognizing that the life of healthy spiritual formation is one of honesty and dialogue and conversation and questions and doubt and even irritation. That that irritation is what causes us to grow and be formed and re-formed.

Today I offer three more, rounding out the Five Points. Point number 3 is this: God forms us in the context of being a teaching church.

I won’t spend a ton of time on this one, because I already have this summer. I have talked about our history as a church that has been an incubator for ministers and missionaries and faithful disciples of Christ, as Dave Nordlund once famously said, “we grow pastors around here. It’s what we do!” I have talked about our role as a church that is in demand for how we teach and send the next generation of Christ followers and church leaders, a gateway of sorts for the region and the whole world. And I have talked about the way that we internalize and institutionalize that priority by way of our team of interns and adjuncts; we know that none of them will be around forever, but we know that we are training them for other places and other roles in the larger church body.

Number three of the Five Points is represented by a baton. Our own Dick Wilson, who passed away a few years ago now, once broke the American 4 mile relay record at KU, along with other phenomenal runners, including the great Wes Santee. Each member had a crucial leg to run, but each one depended on those who came before, and those who came after. The symbol of the baton reminds us that we have a leg to run, but it is not the final one. We are passing the baton to those who come after us.

So, we:
1. Practice spiritual formation that is holistic and whole-person minded.
2. Practice spiritual formation that is open to questions and conversation.
3. Practice spiritual formation in the context of a teaching or sending church.
Next, number four on our list is that we are a partnering church. There are several organizations and groups that are not directly ministries of the church that we have relationships with. We recognize the work that they do is important work for families or for individuals, even though they do it with a different set of priorities and mission statement than we have. And we recognize that we cannot do that same work alone.

• We partner with Head Start, because we know of the good that they do for at-risk families and children. And it is work that we cannot do alone.
• We partner with Family Promise, because they understand that for families and children to learn, they have to first have a place to lay their heads at night. And it is work that we cannot do alone.
• We partner with Troop 60 and the Scouts, because they teach Creation care and stewardship and respect for one another. And it is work that we cannot do alone.
• Even our partnerships with other churches to do Vacation Bible School and the Theologian in Residence Program are examples of spiritual formation and learning and growth that we realize that we cannot do alone.

If we have a symbol for this, perhaps it is the carabiner. Mountain climbers belay themselves to one another with ropes and carabiners like this one, making sure that they will stay together if snow storms or accidents threaten to separate them from one another. In the same way, we are the Church of the Carabiner. We know that we cannot do it all ourselves. We are a partnering church. It isn’t always without challenge. Sometimes we disagree with these organizations and the ways that they work. And sometimes we have to have hard conversations about how to share space and how to partner with them. But the phrase that we have been using on the Spiritual Formation Team is “they aren’t us, but they are ours.” Partners for the journey.

So, we:
1. Practice spiritual formation that is holistic and whole-person minded.
2. Practice spiritual formation that is open to questions and conversation.
3. Practice spiritual formation in the context of a teaching or sending church.
4. Partner in our spiritual formation with other organizations and groups.

And finally, we are a church that values relationships.

Our final of the Five Points is represented by this guy. Anyone recognize him? Luke Skywalker! I don’t always share with you how big of a Star Wars geek I am, but you need to know that this is a decades-long obsession. Luke Skywalker is important to our conversation today because of the relationships that make him who he is. If you don’t know the movies, Luke Skywalker is a young man who finds himself in a battle against the forces of darkness and evil. But he is not alone. Luke has peers, like his sister Leia and friend Han Solo, who aid him on his journey.
And he has mentors, like Ben Kenobi and the little green guy Yoda, with whom he has intergenerational relationships that sustain and guide.

So here at First Baptist, I challenge us to be the Church of Luke Skywalker! To have community relationships that are both peer and intergenerational. Now, this is not as obvious as it sounds. There are a lot of ways to do church out there. There are megachurches that are so big, that you can find a group of folks just like you, or pretty close, to be around or hang out with in the midst of the larger group; some have wings or entire buildings just for youth. And there are small churches out there who do intergenerational and mentoring ministry really well because they have to – there is one Sunday school for everyone over 40. Or one for everyone 5 years old to high school seniors. These are not wrong, but these are not us. Ours is more like Luke Skywalker because as a midsize church, our niche is the balance between peer relationships and intergenerational relationships. At First Baptist, we have Han Solo’s and Yoda’s.

We have peer relationships. We have a youth group, which allows young people to hang out with people who identify and know what they are going through. And we have children’s ministry that gives us a chance to do spiritual formation in ways that are age appropriate. And in response to some of those surveys that we have been filling out, the leadership is working on ways to intentionally do senior adult ministry, so that those who are retired have a chance to have relationships with those who perhaps know what they are going through and feeling. We have – and are working on – more “Han Solo” peer relationships.

But we also intentionally have Yoda relationships. Intergenerational, mentoring relationships in a way that doesn’t isolate age groups, putting them in their own building or small group all the time, but allows us to be formed in these relationships.

Dr. Kara Powell writes in her book Sticky Faith suggest that this is critical to development of young people. They suggest that young people who have these intergenerational relationships are several times more likely to find a church when they grow up and are on their own. They use the language of the ratio of 1:5. In youth ministry, the magic number is usually 5:1. Five students to every one adult. This is for supervision and protection. But the authors suggest that the ratio should be more like 1:5 – that every young person should have 5 older people – mentors in their faith – that help to guide them. In fact, the spiritual formation ministry and the youth group is trying to be more intentional about that this semester, inviting youth to find mentors for them to get to know along their journey. You might well be getting a call to be someone’s mentor any day now. If you do, I hope you say yes.

So, we:
1. Practice spiritual formation that is holistic and whole-person minded.
2. Practice spiritual formation that is open to questions and conversation.
3. Practice spiritual formation in the context of a teaching or sending church.
4. Partner in our spiritual formation with other organizations and groups.
5. And we are a church of Han Solo’s and a church of Yodas! A church of many and varied relationships.

But this is perhaps the most important point of all. Each of these aspects is a work of God through the Holy Spirit. For all of these Five Points, the focus must always be on what the Spirit is doing, not just our own goals and priorities.

Otherwise we run the risk of falling into the same trap as Peter, who Jesus told, “you have your mind on human things, instead of on the things of God.” Instead, Jesus told Peter “get behind me.” He wasn’t just saying “get lost”. He was reminding Peter that the posture of a disciple is to get behind. To follow. To be powdered with the dust of the feet of the Master.

This morning, through these months, and in all of the days ahead, may we have our mind on the things of God, as we seek to follow Christ more closely.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply