Being Stewards ... of Following

            The next day Jesus … found Philip and said to him, “Follow me”. [John 1:43]

Follow … Jesus.  Now there is an interesting idea!  I confess I do a lot more thinking about what I need to do as a leader of this synod than what I am to do as a follower of Jesus.  I guess, as they say, “it goes with the territory” of serving in the office of the Bishop.  However, I have been pondering what going deep as a follower of Jesus means a lot lately.  In part, I presume that is because of the Allegheny Synod’s 3-D emphasis to “Go deep.  Gain direction.  Grow disciples.”

I was struck recently by an advertisement in Congregations, a journal of the Alban Institute, for Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, which read …

Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership

“Congregational transformation,

I finally realized, begins with me.” 

Shalem Institute is a forty year ministry whose core values declare that life is about radically trusting God to be present in us and with us “to guide us toward being our deepest, truest selves in God.”

Now you could be quick to say that the advertisement was directed to pastors, associates in ministry, diaconal ministers, … and yes even bishops, but this advertisement, I contend, could just as well speak to each and every baptized child of God.  It suggests that the answer to our ‘thin spirituality’ rests not with the world out there or some fancy formula or well-designed program, but is rooted in God in Christ’s relationship with you and me.

I know.  I know.  There seems to be a continual outcry for leaders, rather than followers, to lead Christ’s Church from its present state of angst and decline into a new era of vitality and strength.  Many good folks look to younger members to help us make this transformation.  Younger adults, on the other hand, look to their parents’ and grandparents’ generations whom they have previously counted upon to have the answers.  But Shalem Institute, I think, makes a  good point … revitalizing congregations begins with God’s Word and the Holy Spirit nudging and pulling you and me into a deeper and fuller relationship as we follow Jesus.

The problem is that our culture considers following to be a sign of weakness.  Followers are not leaders.  Followers join cults.  Followers do not think for themselves.  Followers take direction from others.  Followers are not creative or innovative.  Followers are subordinates, make less money, and are less happy with their lives.  According to the world, then, following Jesus adds little value to our lives.  Plus, following someone who calls you to think of others before self is challenging; and besides that we have this penchant for thinking no one knows what is good for me except me. 

Yet, Jesus said to Philip and has said to you and to you and to you … and to me, follow me.  Come, walk with me, listen to me, devote yourself to me … and your faith will be deepened and your life empowered.

Following Jesus, then, is about trusting him and confidently immersing yourself in the life and teachings and energy of this one we call Savior, Emmanuel, and Risen.  It means deepening and growing a relationship with Jesus in a community marked by faithful worship, study of God’s Word in the Scriptures, regular prayer, and then walking with Jesus as a steward of everything into the world to serve others through acts of compassion and mercy, while also inviting them to come and meet Jesus in your congregation.

Rob Bell in his video, Dust, talks about followers of Jesus being covered by the dust of their rabbi who precedes them.  The image struck me.  Am I able to taste Jesus’ dust in my mouth and can I feel the dust from following Jesus on my skin and clothes?  Clearly walking with Jesus, talking with Jesus, and trusting Jesus deepens one’s relationship with the One who transforms us and congregations.  May you, my Allegheny Synod partners, be covered in the dust of our teacher and our Risen Savior Jesus.                                    

+Gregory, Follower of Jesus