“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 25:34-36 (ESV)
As some of you know, I will be continuing my formal studies beginning this month when I go back to Dubuque for two weeks of classes. The theme of this program is the empowering and equipping of Christians to do ministry in this evolving time in our history as society takes an even stronger turn toward secular humanism. In essence, God and His church are being exiled to the periphery of society. This is not necessarily a bad thing as our Creator may be challenging the church to a model of Christian ministry closer to what our Lord intended all along.
When I received the reading list for school, I could not wait to jump in. When the books arrived, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. But like many kids, one present befuddled me when the wrapping paper came off. It was a book titled The Monks of Tibhirine by John Kiser.
Why would I need a book that chronicles the true story of French monks serving in Algeria, especially during the time of political and religious turmoil in near the end of the twentieth century? What does a setting in a small Muslim village outside of Algiers have to do with Christian ministry in America? Why would they have us read a story that would end (spoiler alert here) with the death of several monks who refused to leave the people they loved and served in the village?
As I read, I was inspired at the amazing wisdom contained within the pages of this book that have incredible application in today’s day and age where people can be apathetic or even hostile toward God and Christians. One such nugget of insight comes from the philosophy or mission statement that these monks followed in doing ministry in a world that was distinctly not Christian.
Provide a presence, not a missionary presence, but a contemplative and prayerful presence, the fruit of a community that is stable, united, fraternal, and hard-working (with its associates). Provide a presence that is unassuming and mysterious; separate from the world but in communion with the people, humbly attentive to the material and spiritual needs of our immediate neighbors. (from Interreligious Dialogue at Tibhirine)
Look at the words like “contemplative and prayerful presence” (read thoughtful and prayerful), “stable”, “united”, “fraternal” (read brotherly and sisterly in our setting) and “hardworking (with its associates).” These are all traits of who they were as fellow Christians serving in ministry together.
The second part spells out how to live amongst people different from them in many ways. They provided a “presence that is unassuming and mysterious” (read unpretentious and spiritually different), “separate” yet “in communion”, and “humbly attentive” to the needs of their neighbors.
Also, notice how prevalent the word “presence” is in this statement; four times it is used. They believed that this presence was not about them, but the presence of their Lord in the midst of the ministry setting.
What I read is a statement that makes Christ real to them and others, and a prescription for a Christian community that is accommodating to others without compromising the Christian gospel. I don’t know about you, but if a group in my community was living like that, I would want to be part of it to find out what makes them “different.” They were not “missionaries” in a classical sense, yet they were undoubtedly extending God’s mission in the world.
This is some wisdom worth looking into as a Christian community located on Main Street in Sparta, NJ; especially as the Lord takes us forward in the 21st Century.
More to come…
Forever In His Service,
A Special Thank You!
On May 1st of last year, I began serving here as pastor. I can’t believe it has been one year!
In that year, I have been dressed as a panda, narrated the story of Joseph, played a hot third base (for one game!), became an angel and a pig farmer in It’s a Wonderful Life, and convinced my cousin, Guiseppe Rigatoni, to perform for the first time in the United States at the Coffee House.
I got to know this family better as we endured a destructive July thunderstorm, a super destructive Hurricane Sandy, and significant snowfall. But also as I walked with this family through seasons of life as I baptized babies (and a new mom and her twins), challenged confirmands not to be squirrels, and grieved alongside together the loss of members of this family.
I watched this church family reach out and embrace my family, and I have watched my family utilize their God given gifts of compassion, music, acting, costuming, sewing, and working with kids to the ministries of our Lord’s church here on Main Street in Sparta, New Jersey.
All this to say how eternally grateful I am to You, my Lord my God, for bringing me here to serve You and Your people!
Forever in Your service!
(You humble sheepdog)
To see Pastor Pat's 2012 Annual Report Article please click here.