Note: This is something I blogged elsewhere, but felt it could be helpful within the context of effective ministry.

“God is in control.”
These words are often used as an attempt to comfort people going through hard times. More often than not, to that person, it seems like they’re trying to comfort themselves.

The last few years have been tough on us. We’ve teetered on the edge of poverty for sometime now and it’s extremely difficult. I once heard the experience of poverty described as being like that moment where you see someone suffering and you’re desperate to find some sort of solution. It’s like that moment, but all the time. Now, I willingly admit that, while we’re having a rough time right now, it is harder for many of the billions of people around the world living in poverty. But saying “God is in control”, just says to me that you think God wants it this way. That might be ok if poverty were only a short-term experience, but understanding the nature of poverty in this country, and around the world, we know that many will live in poverty for the rest of their lives. Does God want that?

In my view, this is why the concept of human agency is so important. God allows humans to make their own decisions, and out of those decisions comes the cruel injustice of the rich having their ‘beds of ivory’ or luxury cars, while the poor are trampled. It also means that the solutions are not as simple as “God will fix it.”

The key question for those of us who believe in free agency is, “Where is the comfort in that?” (In fact, as Christians, how to comfort the afflicted should be a central question anyway). How do we find hope and comfort in the midst of suffering? Simply saying “it will get better” or “your prayers will be answered” is not satisfying. God hears the cries of the afflicted all of the time.

Perhaps some of the answer comes from what God is doing. We can find some solace in God’s creation, and the small moments of joy amidst the desperation.  We can find hope in the message of the resurrection: justice and peace will win, in the end. But those things can only help so much in the here and now.

For me, when I consider my own sense of desperation and fear for the future, I feel the most helpful thing is to allow myself to allow myself to feel loved and cared for – by my Creator and by those around me. Being loved helps you feel worthwhile, and feeling worthwhile means when the world treats you like shit, you’re going to start taking action to stop it. Being truly loved also means you’re not alone in confronting the cause of your suffering.

As friends and disciples we can minister by simply offering our care and love without suggestions and self-serving attempts to instill hope that their suffering is going to end soon. Offering your solutions is actually a really bad way to show someone you care. Listening and accepting a person’s feelings is far more important. You can’t be part of the person’s solution until you have stood in solidarity with them. At that point we can collaborate with them (and God) to end their suffering (whatever may be the cause).

A compassionate response must always be focused on how the other person is affected and empowering them. Often, our response to suffering in the world is to make ourselves feel better. We see children suffering in poverty, our response is to throw money at it – to offer our solutions so we can start feeling better. Poverty is best overcome by the poor organizing in solidarity with each other to overcome their challenges.

It is the same with our relationships. When our friends or members of our families are going through hard times, our first response is often to offer our solutions or to say something that helps us feel better. What we should know is that we don’t do any good without first fully accepting that person and their experiences, helping them know that they’re loved, and then being prepared to stand in solidarity with them. If you do this, they will truly know you stand with them. Without this, it is harder for that person to be reminded that they are loved, and that God too is standing in solidarity with them.

The problem with the Community of Christ in these early years of the 21st Century is also the solution. It’s our untapped potential. I cannot speak for the whole church, because I have not experienced the church in many places, but from my experience (mostly in Australia and the United States) the Community of Christ is like a seed. Tiny, ready to grow, not yet fulfilling it’s potential. It is the seed for something amazing.

The potential for the Community of Christ exists within each of its members. It is made up of wonderful sincere people with many gifts and talents, each with a calling to spread the Gospel, but many without a sense of what they can actually achieve. Jesus the Christ said to the disciples, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.” (John 14:12). What an amazing prospect!

But somehow any sign of fulfilling potential is not yet being accomplished on a large scale. It seems to be happening in pockets. Why? Why aren’t we doing anything about the fact that it is not happening everywhere the church is?

My theory is that it is because we are a people distracted from a knowledge of our own ability to accomplish Christ’s mission in the world. Have you noticed how little you hear from local people doing good works in their local congregations? Have you noticed how the church heroes/celebrities that are talked about are almost exclusively church employees? We are falling into a trap of complacency and relying upon the few to accomplish the work of the body of Christ instead of recognizing and fulfilling our own callings and abilities. We are a people that disempower ourselves.

What is needed is a refocusing of attention. Instead of the Herald and the church website publicizing the wonderful works of church leaders, let’s focus on what amazing things volunteer ministers can accomplish. The best paid ministry sits in the background. It supports the ministry of the disciples not by doing it for them, but by providing the motivation, support and encouragement needed to get them moving. So let’s forget about the fact that we have paid ministers at all for a while. If we stop giving leaders and staff all of the attention, maybe we will cease to view them as the source of ministry in our church. Maybe we will discover gifts that have lain dormant because we have felt less worthy, or less needed. They have a vital function, but nowhere near as vital as you ministering to your neighbor, nowhere near as vital as you providing prayerful support in a time of need, nowhere near as vital as you taking action to create justice and peace in the world.

The Community of Christ has amazing potential to be a movement of people who discern for themselves the ministry needs of the community and acts upon them – a movement of people taking action to bring about the peaceful and just reign of God on earth. We will not fulfill that as long as we remain comfortable, and reliant upon the leaders and paid staff of the church to do our work for us.

People of the church arise! Engage your neighbours, your communities, the global village and be the agents of transformation each of you are called to be. God gave you your potential. Pray earnestly and act. Your time has come.

The proposal before the World Conference to hold localized conferences to deal with church policy on divisive matters seems to be mostly attempting to address issues like homosexuality where in some parts of the world, the church could face serious obstacles if it allowed non-celibate homosexuals to serve in its priesthood. This is not a horrible solution, however I do not believe it will resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction.

If homosexuality in the priesthood is determined on a local level, what would be the status of priesthood or church staff in locations where homosexual behaviours would not be accepted for priesthood?

In places that would allow non-celibate homosexuals to participate in the priesthood, it would allow for at least Deacons, Teachers, Priests and Elders to be ordained, and would provide for Mission Centres hiring them for ministry positions more readily.

However, let’s say the places that will allow it allow it, and those who won’t won’t. Here are some situations I would expect to emerge:

-A homosexual priesthood member travels from their home in a location where they are permitted to serve in the priesthood and visits a congregation where such behaviour would prevent their ordination. Is their priesthood not valid there?

-Does the World Church not taking a stand on the issue mean that it cannot employ non-celibate homosexuals as the policy at that level would go unchanged?

-Does the World Church not taking a stand on the issue mean that World Church officers (such as the Council of Twelve) cannot initiate priesthood calls as the policy at that level would go unchanged?

Localizing the decision making process would likely not change the fact that non-celibate homosexuals cannot serve as Seventies, Evangelists, High Priests, Apostles, Bishops or as Presidents as all of these offices must be initiated by World Church officers.
Certainly at very least, homosexuals would still be prevented from serving in the World Church leadership (Apostles, Presidents, Bishops, Presidents of Seventy, Presiding Evangelist).

It is unclear how the Presidency would seek to overcome this issue.

For this reason, I doubt localizing the decision making will resolve the issue. Either the World Church continues to forbid non-celibate homosexuals participate in the priesthood, or it changes its policy. If it does change its policy, the “harm” it is trying to avoid may occur anyway.

If the regional conference idea is approved, it could potentially lead to increased acceptance of homosexuals in priesthood offices, but even then, it would be limited – such that it would still likely not be acceptable to many who are advocating for change in the policy.

What do you think? Is this an acceptable option?

If anyone knows anything I don’t please let me know.

One of the most interesting things about this World Conference is that there is more commentary on legislation and conference itself available than ever, thanks to the increase in Community of Christ blogging.

The exciting thing about this is that it fosters more informed debate at conference, providing opportunities for delegates to hear more perspectives on conference legislation and to discuss them before conference.

Saints Herald (www.saintsherald.com), are posting a series of articles on different pieces of legislation as well as providing a commentary on the Conference. The Saints Herald team (not affiliated with the Herald Magazine) put together some of the most interesting articles on current church affairs, so it’s well worth checking into.

Beware the Chicken has posted a couple of must read articles on the proposed changes to the by-laws of the church. He is critical of the proposed by-laws and their potential to consolidate more power in the hands of the First Presidency. At a time where we need to be empowering the members, Beware the Chicken’s points are well worth considering for anyone wanting to take their delegate responsibilities seriously.

http://bewarethechicken.blogspot.com/2010/03/institutional-authority-and.html

http://bewarethechicken.blogspot.com/2010/04/mr-chairman-i-appeal-from-decision-of.html

As has been the case since for several conferences past, the Community of Christ Webboard (http://www.cofchrist.oli.us/) has provided a forum for debate and discussion on conference legislation.

There are also a number of people reporting from the conference via twitter.

http://twitter.com/txjuju

http://twitter.com/ausworldconf

The degree to which twitter can be beneficial is somewhat debatable, but it at least provides a method of sharing views (even if they’re not explained).

If you know of any other articles, websites, etc that are improving the quality of discussion for World Conference, please leave a comment!

I believe that one of the biggest problems facing the Community of Christ is the sense of powerlessness amongst the membership. Members are constantly looking to the leadership and paid staff rather than to the power of God within themselves to transform the world. There are many reasons for this, and I will address some of them in later postings.
However, with the coming World Conference, I thought it might be helpful to have a look at ways conference is contributing to the condition of the church and how we might be able to change things for the future.

When the different churches went their different ways after the death of Joseph Smith Jr. those who would go on to form the Community of Christ tended to be the non-conformists. They had been wary of the power-hungry behaviours of several claimants to the prophetic mantle, and formed an organization where the people’s ability to discern the right direction of the church would stand as paramount in the heirarchy of church power.
This power was contained within the tradition of conferences. The Community of Christ formed as a group of people who came together in conferences, not initiated by a Prophet-President, but by church members. Where Mormon conferences quickly became little more than meetings of the faithful to affirm their support for the leadership and listening to them for guidance, Community of Christ conference attendees often challenged leadership, and have long carried a strong tradition of fiery debate and discussion – taking seriously their role in determining the future of the church. The power of the church is in it’s people and their relationship with God, and that has been represented in our approach to World Conference.

The Community of Christ World Conference has, in recent years, been headed in more of the direction of LDS conferences. Here are a few indicators of this trend:

-Increasing deferral of conference business to the First Presidency.
There are some areas where deferring business to the First Presidency is appropriate (such as intepretation of scripture, etc.), however simply deferring all unfinished business to the Presidency because we just didn’t have enough time is taking power out of the people’s hands.

Less regular conferences.
A few conferences ago the church moved to approve having every second conference be of a less legislative and more educational focus (which sounds like an LDS conference to me). Since then, the church has instead moved to conferences every three years. The conference couldn’t get through the business it had before it when we were having conferences every 2 years. This could mean more deferred legislation.

-Stifled Debate
The ability for members to “move the previous question” has been abused. Debate helps inform the church about the various reasons for and against an issue. A good example was the legislation to hold conferences 3 years apart. The cases for the negative that got to speak amounted to little more than Independence people who would miss having conference. At that point the conference moved to end debate.
There were people at the conference who believed that holding conference less frequently would take away from the people’s voice in the church, and would mean even more deferral of decision making authority to the First Presidency. Had I known this, I certainly would have voted differently than I did.

So, how are we to increase the democratic role of the World Conference?

For the church in general:
-More regular conferences.
One of the best things contained within the Words of Counsel that will be before the Conference is that regional, multi-mission centre conferences would be able to make decisions affecting their areas. I would like to see a clear policy determined outlining how people can submit legislation, and what decisions will be within their purview, but the idea sounds helpful.
However, I would still like to see Conference go back to being every 2 years, with regional conference every other year. This approach would likely reduce the legislative workload of the World Conference without taking any power away from the people.

-Conferences outside of Independence.
Giving additional weight to church members from less-represented countries is somewhat limited in its effectiveness in giving every church member equal voice. The immigration limitations of the United States mean that a lot of members do not get the kinds of representation they deserve because their delegates can either not afford to go, or cannot get in because they cannot obtain a visa (tending to limit attendance to richer church members). Sometimes people from other countries even have to come in to represent those from countries who cant send anyone, or at least not enough to fill their delegation.
Perhaps it would be helpful to investigate what locations would be provide the facilities required, whilst having open enough immigration laws to allow better representation. The locations could perhaps alternate or change locations each time. This would allow increased participation from church members outside of North America.

For those attending Conference, I have the following suggestions:
-Do not “move the previous question” or vote for such a motion unless you feel that all of the perspectives present have had their say. We may not agree with all perspectives, but part of democracy is letting everyone have their say.
-Be hesitant to defer to the First Presidency, Council of Twelve or any other church authority. You are thinking, praying, discerning Christians with the ability to make the big decisions. That’s why you’re there. Not only will this help retain the power of the conference, but also tends to make for stronger decisions. Can you imagine the First Presidency coming out with as strong a statement against use of firearms as the conference did?
-Speak up.
Whether it be in the quorum meetings (which properly used can be excellent forums for boiling down the debate on an issue to the best few points) or on the conference floor, speak up, speak your mind. That’s what you’re there for.
-Keep it all in context.
You’re there to have your say and represent people in your Mission Centre in the direction of the World Church, however remember that the real success or failure of the church happens back at home. That’s where the real power is – where disciples go into their communities sharing the peace of Jesus Christ. It is there that you will determine the future of the church. So take your delegate duties seriously but approach each question in this way: is this enhancing our ability to be the body of Christ in our communities, or distracting from it?

Enjoy Conference!

“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”” (Matthew 17:20)

I’ve created this blog to share some thoughts and provoke some discussion on the future of my church, the Community of Christ.

The underpinning idea is that the key to growth in the church is for attention to turn from the World Church, it’s leaders, and church staff, to the power to transform the world that is inherent in each person when they go into their communities with Christ. If each of us had faith the size of a mustard seed, imagine what we could achieve!

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.””(John 14:12)

I certainly do not expect everyone to agree with me, nor should they. I do encourage you to join in the discussion and share your views. It is together that we will change the world!

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