When someone joins the United Methodist Church, they pledge to support it with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Anyone can procure a copy of The United Methodist Book of Discipline and read for themselves the official stance of the Church on the elements of the pledge, but I thought it might be helpful to see what a clergy perspective is as shaped by years of ministerial experience, formal training, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
How we speak about the goodness of God is almost as important as what we say. Does your face light up? Does your body radiate energy and enthusiasm? Do you get excited to share what a wonderful and mighty God you serve? Classically, clergy are trained to be orators, and those called upon to communicate the theology and doctrine of the Church. This remains true, but we are not the only ones to speak of God’s grace and truth. We cannot be the sole voices singing the praises of God Almighty. We are not soloists, but part of the choir of witnesses of which every single Christian should be a part. Although I love a good theological conversation as much as the next Reverend, my words can ring hollow because I am a paid clergy person, and it is assumed that I have something to gain by converting someone. As if I get commission on every convert…
The truth is that we join the Church and pledge to expand our family, an evangelical twist on “be fruitful, and multiply” (Genesis 1:22). Now some of us may literally raise up disciples of Jesus Christ by having children, but unless you are planning on having a family of hundred children (Mark 4:20), then you have others for whom you need to witness. We are expected to bear fruit, our faith should make others want to believe in Christ. We give our witness in variety of ways, but none of those should include assuming that your pastor will do all the evangelism for you. I have enough to do ordering the life of the local church to which I am appointed, preaching and teaching the Word of God each week, and handling the pastoral care needs of an active congregation of 350. I cannot take on the responsibility to witness to the truth of the Gospel alone. Indeed, part of accepting and now embracing my vocation is my witness: I so believe in the life-changing grace of the cross upon which my Lord Christ Jesus died that I dedicate my entire life to ordained ministry. But not everyone will do this, nor does God call everyone to this specifically, so each disciple must prayerfully discern how God is calling them to witness. When was the last time we prayed: Lord, tell me how you would have me share the Gospel?
The disciple of Jesus who never tells their story, never speaks their experience with God’s grace is squandering the gift that the power of the Holy Spirit makes for us. Your story, your encounters with God are your witness. Share them! We share where we have been on vacation, what we are doing this weekend, recipes, reviews of local restaurants, etc., but where do we share our gratitude and love for the blessings of Almighty God? We should look people in the eye and radiate the joy that comes from being relinquished from eternal death: “My sin is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Come feel the weightlessness for yourself!” I am unabashed about who I am (a disciple of Jesus Christ), and what I do (a pastor). I never shy away from telling of the things that I am privileged to be a part of because of my devotion to God. I get to feed hungry people, make a difference in others’ lives, share my blessings with others, and work for something that will outlast any personal legacy I could achieve. I get to do all this, not because I am worthy, but loved. That’s all. I am loved, and you are too. So is that neighbor you really like, but who never goes to church. So is your sibling that wandered away after high school, and needs a ground of hope. So is your dearest friend who is struggling to survive this tragedy unfolding in their life, and could use the comfort and grace of God to survive. Can you really expect that I can speak the truth in love to them better than you? Of course not. They will hear you and receive God’s truth in your voice emanating from your vessel long before they do from mine, and thank God for that. Because they know and love you, and your gift of the Gospel will mean something so much more poignant. So do it, share your witness in whatever words or ways you need to be effective, but do it. For the love of God and the emergence of the Kingdom to come, do it. Then come tell me all about it, because there is nothing that makes a clergy person’s day like hearing about the triumphs of the Body of Christ in bringing another into our holy communion, this blessed family of faith.