It has certainly been a blessing to serve Concord for the past four years. My wife and I have enjoyed our time in Arkansas and will miss it, but we are still looking forward to this next chapter in life. She’ll be getting settled with her career and I plan to take some time off from “employed” ministry. I will likely volunteer with some chaplaincy programs and nonprofits.
So with all that said, I have some final thoughts to share with everyone for the final post I’ll author on the Concord church blog…
1.Y’ALL are the church!
Churches are not made by a pastor. Neither are they made by a bishop nor superintendent. Instead, churches are made up by the people. While a pastor certainly can certainly have authority and show leadership, the true body of a church is comprised of everyone.
I think our denomination understands and promotes this powerful idea. Pastors are sent and appointed by bishops in a system called itineracy. Hopefully congregations develop with one another, forming lasting bonds that will endure beyond any one particular pastor’s tenure. Likewise, regardless of whoever occupies a pulpit, a United Methodist congregation ought to be truly driven by the people in the pews.
I often feel saddened for other denominations where if a pastor moves or retires, that might very well mean the end of that local church. Hopefully this is never the case in United Methodism, and that Concord will continue to thrive through different seasons! Please remember that Y’ALL are the church!
2. Church is not just a Sunday activity.
Before I was commissioned as a pastor, a friend of mine once remarked about a challenge he experienced during his work as a youth pastor. At most, he would have a couple hours of face-time with his students in their youth group, between Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, and/or youth events. He noticed how much of an impact parents, television, and social media have on young people. “I feel like I’m competing with all these different influences, from troubled homes to peer pressure at school!” He told me. It is hard to overcome difficulties if someone only devotes a small amount of time to overcome them.
I think the same point applies for just about anyone. Your time spent with Concord “activities” is rather limited, given the full scope of a week’s time. Tragically, I think many Christians do not realize this and fall into the trap of having “Christian” time on Sunday, then going about living for yourself Monday through Saturday. It is my prayer that everyone would continue making our faith a constant practice.
3. Be mindful of the dangers of social media.
I’ve made use of many online resources the past few years, and especially so with COVID-19. While these have certainly been a blessing, I cannot help but notice that there is such a truly dark and disturbing aspect of things like Facebook. Many items shared, posted, and liked play to emotions such as jealousy, anger, and judgment. What we type on a keyboard is often shockingly unfiltered compared to how we might behave in person. People from all generations bully and harass. It is also worth noting that regardless of privacy settings, it is basically a given that your online “life” is visible to the entire world. Addiction to the internet is a very real thing, where we literally cannot function without apps and phones.
I think these “online” problems will only get worse. I don’t really know how the church can offer a better sort of witness. If we ignore social media altogether, we run the risk of not engaging where the people are. Yet if we participate in and use it, we might fall prey to nasty temptations. I don’t really have much of a firm “answer” for this issue, other than to say to be mindful of the dangers social media. That, and ask yourself “What Would Jesus Post?”
4. Idols are everywhere.
Worship comes in many different forms. We essentially worship what we are “all about.” Even nonreligious people find something to worship and get religious about! Worship doesn’t have to be literally bowing down to something or someone, like we might think of in the Old Testament. Anything we worship that is not God is an idol. So where do we devote our energy, passion, and devotion?
If you ask me, some of the most common idols in our world are money, politics, guns/security, a family name, personal popularity, and America itself. Be aware of how easy it is to worship objects or ideas instead of God! Sometimes idols might be neutral things on their own–consider a “family name.” It is wonderful to have a supportive family, yet if we make our live all about one particular family history and forget God’s family, then we cross over into idolatry. Or consider America itself. I certainly enjoy the freedoms we have in this country, but to worship them or think America is more important than God’s kingdom crosses a dangerous line. In my own life, I find myself needing to be cautious about the dangers of idolatry on a regular basis.
5. Trust God with the future.
When will the COVID-19 situation get better? Is the worst behind us? Will the UMC split up? Will we be able to stay together?
There’s a lot of different kinds of uncertainty right now. On one hand, you might be worried for your health due to an illness with no vaccine. On the other hand, you might worry for the future of our denomination and what that means for Concord.
One story comes to my mind a couple years ago. I was quite busy one day, going from place to place, and one of my final stops was to visit Ms. Maxine, who was recovering from surgery or a hospitalization. I remember feeling rather tired and worn out from the day. Right as we sat down to talk, seemingly out of nowhere, Maxine told me, “Billy, I know God sent you here to be with us at Concord. I know he has a purpose for you.” I definitely cherish memories like this one. They teach me a lot about who God is and how God uses other people.
This is a reminder that we ought to be trusting in God when faced with trying times or unknown futures. Hand over those cares and concerns. Take time to pray. Don’t give into pessimism. Despairing will get you nowhere. Seek out opportunities to live out God’s hope. Indeed God has a purpose for every one of us!
Once again, I want to reiterate how much of a blessing it has been to serve Concord. Thank you for welcoming me to be your pastor. Thank you for your words of encouragement. Thank you for showing up to studies, services, events, and mission projects. Thank you for your generosity and eagerness to bring about God’s kingdom. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for showing God’s love to us in so many different ways.
Thank you for being Concord Church the past four years!