Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bowl on My Shoulder

It's funny how God works. Maybe it's more funny how much it takes for God to get my attention.

Last night I was teaching a Junior High class on Youth Night at church. We were talking about the Bible and how else God could have chosen to communicate with His creation. Of course the popular method among the kids was to have God tell us what to do at every decision. No problems with discerning God's will that way! Wondering which way to turn? God will just simply appear and tell you to turn right... or left. Trying to decide which pair of pants to wear? God will tell you which pair looks better with that shirt.

Looking for a tangible example of what I meant, I reached around and found the only thing within an armlength: a small wooden bowl. Placing it on my shoulder, I used it to illustrate a small version of God sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear to make a left at the intersection and telling me to pick out the new khakis.

With that bowl on my shoulder, we discussed why that wouldn't be such a good way for us to be directed by God. After all, if God told us exactly what to do at every moment -- what to say, when to raise our arms, how to fix our hair -- then how would we ever learn to make decisions for ourselves? How could we make a real choice to follow Him? How would we mature as human beings and as Christians if we didn't have to think about things? God gave us principles in Scripture and He wants us to read those words and hide them away in our hearts. He wants us to seek Him in prayer and in meditation upon what the Word has to say. Then when decision time comes, we know what pleases God and what does not. God sitting on our shoulder may be the easiest on us because all we have to do is follow instructions, not actually go to the trouble of using the grey matter in our collective craniums. But God created us to be thinking beings, seeking God's face by taking His Word and applying it to our lives.

I spent much of today with a group of pastors from my denomination. We are in the midst of a big structural change from headquarters down to the local church. In the past, the country was divided into geographical areas. All churches within each area were grouped together as a conference. The conference was led by an elected superintendent. Larger conferences were further divided into districts with district superintendents. Each conference had it's own set of commissions and committees to take care of regional business.

But this summer, the denomination voted to get rid of much of the bureaucracy. The regional conferences will be history at the end of the year. The superintendent will no longer superintend. We are left with one national organization. To bridge the gap, each local church and pastor is to join a group of other churches and/or pastors in a "cluster."

We've been told that a cluster is to have around five to seven churches and handle a lot of accountability and encouragement functions, as well as doing some common studies together. That's really all we know about clusters at this point. None have been formed. It's a little like choosing up sides to play a game on the playground, except there are no captains and no teams. The guys from headquarters were there to give us that much of an idea. We pastors are left to get the thing organized at the grassroots level.

At our meeting today, we spent a lot of time walking around with quizzical looks on our faces. "What do you think it should be like?" was the most common comment of the day. We brainstormed. We theorized. We ate. (Hey, pastors are usually ready for a good meal at any time of the day or night!) And we considered who we'd like to have in a cluster with us. Those who think like us or people who challenge our thinking? Pastors of bigger churches, smaller churches or of our own size? Older pastors? Younger pastors? Living nearby or a cluster using the Internet for much of the communication? We left the meeting with a few ideas, but relatively few answers. I'm sure we'll get it all figured out in time, but it still seems a bit up in the air right now.

On the two hour drive home it hit me. Or rather, God hit me. I had sat last night with a bowl on my shoulder, explaining that we don't have God giving us every little answer. But in our denomination over the years, we've had a strong central structure laying out the entire organization. We never had to come up with these answers ourselves because the rules were drafted long ago and ratified by the governing body. So now we find ourselves for the first time with a few guidelines and no one giving specific instructions. We have no bowl on our shoulders. We have to be the thinking beings our Creator designed us to be, seeking His direction.

I think I can understand a little better just how scary it is to try to make godly decisions when you don't know what the Bible says. With little or no input, it seems an insurmountable problem to distinguish God's will from any common thought in your head. So why would so many who wear the name of Jesus Christ neglect private Bible reading and study? Why do we seek the bowl on our shoulders with ready answers instead of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ through the revelation He has given us?

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