Last week Barack Obama became our President-elect.  What has moved me more than anything else about this election is the involvement and energy of our country’s young people.  I was amazed at the interest our three young adult children had in the election.  Rather than simply hear that they are our nation’s hope for the future, our youth have been empowered to believe that they are an integral part of our nation right now and can make an immediate and lasting difference.   

This sentence from Obama’s acceptance speech will stay with me.  “This victory alone is not the change we seek.  It is only the chance for us to make that change.  And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.  It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.  So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.”

What I hope our country heard clearly last week is that the potential for positive change is here, but we are the ones who have to embody that change by doing our part.  Barack Obama cannot transform our country by himself.  The government can’t do it; nor can the Democratic or Republican party.  There are no shortcuts to the challenges that face our country right now.  It’s only by deciding to work and serve together that we can restore stability, hope and peace to our world.  Every one of us has a role to play in our world’s future.

Unfortunately, it’s in our nature as human beings to seek shortcuts to achieve what we want rather than work hard and smart.  Those shortcuts, however, often end up being a road to nowhere. 

  • Professional athletes resort to performance enhancing drugs to give them that extra edge.
  • Ads for Lypozine promise that you will lose weight by taking pills – no need to change your life by exercising and eating less!
  • U.S. financial institutions expect to be bailed out when they overextend themselves or fall victim to greed.
  • Individuals spend freely and rely on borrowed credit rather than live within their means.
  • Our youth feel a sense of entitlement, thinking that a high paying, fulfilling job will simply fall into their lap without hard work and education.
  • We are convinced that stress-related illnesses will miraculously disappear if we try this, that or the other prescription medicine.
  • We think that the best solution to the energy crisis is to drill for more oil rather than cut back our lifestyle and seek renewable forms of energy

The desire for quick fixes pervades the church as well.  Here’s my favorite list of church shortcuts. 

  • We define church growth by how many pound-packing potlucks we serve rather than by how many lives we transform in a year. 
  • Programming is haphazard rather than intentional and based on our vision and mission.
  • Rather than embrace change, we revert back to default mode, claiming we’ve always done it that way and it still works (well, kind of).
  • We live on the edge financially by relying on a big donor to write a big check at the end of the year rather than challenging all members to practice year round stewardship. 
  • We decide not to pay ministry shares rather than live within our budgetary means.
  • We fill slots rather than take the time to help people discern their spiritual gifts.
  • We make joining the church painless rather than establish meaningful membership standards.
  • Our modus operandi is “good enough” rather than “excellent” or “great.”
  • We stop Sunday school, lamenting “we have no children,” rather than move outside the church to minister to children in out backyard.
  • We keep people busy rather than form people spiritually.

As Dan Dick reminded us on Saturday at our Vital Congregations workshop, there are no magic pills to create vital churches.  When Jesus described himself as the way, the truth and the life, the path he described involved losing our life in order to save it, serving rather than being served, turning the other cheek, loving our enemy, and living peaceably with all.  How can we effectively follow that way instead of creating our own shortcuts?

Dick’s new research has led him to name 4 non-negotiables of vital churches: 4 characteristics of every vital church he has visited:

  • Relationships are built upon mutual respect and trust.
  • There is a positive, passionate and productive church environment.
  • There is a clarity of expectations with accountability.
  • There is an unwavering commitment to continuous learning and improvement. 

This kind of vitality will only occur when we practice intentional discipline, are deliberate about change, communicate in healthy ways, and create an atmosphere where the entire community takes responsibility.  If we take any other path, we only shortchange ourselves and those we serve.

Dan Dick said on Saturday that when churches make a conscious decision to become healthy and stable, it take from 7 – 13 years to see results.  Anything worthwhile and transformative takes time, though.  As President-elect Obama said in his acceptance speech, “The road ahead will be long.  Our climb will be steep.  We may not get there in one year or even in one term.  But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”

We have just elected the first African-American president in our history, a sure sign of hope.  I am just as hopeful about the United Methodist Church, for God is not through with us yet.  With our young people and hope leading the way, it’s time to shine the light of Jesus Christ into the darkest corners of our district, nation and world.  Let’s shine it together!

Blessings, Laurie




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