July 13, 2012


Filed under: Lectionary,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 4:51 pm

God of faithful surprises, throughout the ages you have made known your love and power in unexpected ways and places. May we daily perceive the joy and wonder of your abiding presence and offer our lives in gratitude for our redemption. Amen[i]

I love watching David dance! In just 10½ verses, the writer of 2 Samuel tells us three times that “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.” And the party didn’t stop there! We see not just dancing, but sacrifice…burnt offering…shouting and the sound of trumpets…blessings….and a distribution of food.

David was overwhelmed with joy at being in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. For him to bring it up from the house of Abinadab to the City of David, to Jerusalem, filled him with such a presence of spirit that his mortal body couldn’t contain it. Every limb, every cell of his being, rejoiced at the presence of the Lord. He simply had to dance.

The thing I love about David is that he allows himself this joy. He doesn’t hide behind the decorum of the court, the status of his office as King. He doesn’t worry about embarrassing tabloid headlines or lurking paparazzi. He lets it happen. And in doing so, he shows himself to be a true leader, setting the best example possible for the faithful of Israel—be joyful in the presence of the Lord! Enter his gates with singing, his courts with praise!

What might it mean to be a son or daughter of David through Christ Jesus? Look at the “shaking Quakers” of the mid-18th Century, whose hands for work and hearts for God resulted in enormously successful communities of faith and extended family

Or the African American traditions, in which emotional outpouring and extended praise and lament in song and dance are a regular part of worship. Among native African Christians I have more than once seen the entire church choir dancing in the aisles of the funeral buses as they made their way from the church to the cemetery.

Christians are incredibly expressive people! In both my consulting work with congregational leaders and my discernment work with individual laypersons, the question is rarely What could we be doing? What might the Kingdom of God look like in our midst? Visioning, imagining, is hardly ever the problem. The real question is almost always How do we get out of our own way? Why can’t we let ourselves dance?

What, exactly, are those obstacles—those things that we need to “get over” if we as congregations are to move into a more Gospel-effective way of being in the world? Consider how the Kingdom of God might arise in our midst if we could:

Overcome humility. “But that’s not really ministry; it’s just what I do.” Sometimes this comes from a life that is so deeply Gospel-lived, a life in which being the hands of Christ in the world has been internalized to the point that the person no longer sees it. More often, people are for any number of reasons uncomfortable with the idea of “putting myself forward, making something of what I do when all my neighbors are doing their bit too.”

We need to pastorally give one another permission to claim that all that we do, with all that we have, when we are acting as people of faith, is in fact Gospel living. Any time we take any action to feed the hungry, clothe naked, visit the prisoner, or care for the widow and orphan in their affliction, we engage in ministry. When we name our ministries, we grow in understanding our community of faith as more than the sum of its baptismal parts.

Dancing alone is still dancing; when we all dance together it’s a celebration.

Move beyond baptismal gridlock. In the context of an emerging ministry, gridlock is usually the result of simple inertia: Do we have the capacity to take this on? Who will take the reins? How will we identify the right people, the right gifts? We talk ourselves out of trying. But with courage and determination, these tugs toward inaction are relatively easy to overcome. Begin by remembering that we often find it easier to see the flame of Pentecost dancing above someone else’s head than above our own. Start with small group discussions around a spiritual gifts inventory or spiritual autobiography. Even where members of the congregation know each other well, are lifelong friends and neighbors, I can honestly say that I have never sat in on a spiritual autobiography session in which the members didn’t learn something new and interesting about one another. If we are truly led to pilot a new expression of the Gospel, we will succeed in calling forth glad offerings from the gifts in our midst.

The more difficult type of gridlock lies in discerning the Holy Spirit’s will for an existing ministry. Those who bring experience and a long-standing commitment to a particular ministry are at once the best resources for new ways of thinking and the most vulnerable to feeling hurt, protective, and even angry when new directions are proposed.

Larger congregations have the option of using term limits or other policy guidelines to ensure “new blood” in existing ministries, protect leaders from burnout, and guard against entrenched ownership. In smaller congregations, well… As someone in my own mission put it, “There just aren’t enough of us to mix things up; the only way we can rotate leadership is if we all keep swapping jobs. So we just gave up and let each other do what suits us best.” In either case we almost inevitably end up with leadership that won’t let go, or newcomers who can’t break in. Neither is healthy.

Approached pastorally, tackling gridlock can be a rich opportunity for group and individual discernment. When leadership asks What is this ministry called to become in this time and place?, we also give individuals some space to wonder Is there an expression of my own baptism that I would like to explore? Is there something else I’ve never been able to try because I’m committed to this? As with new ministry, a spiritual gifts exercise can be a wonderful point of discovery for both congregational and personal renewal. Dancers love to learn new steps!

Face our fears. Which is worse, fear of failure or fear of success? The truth is, either one can hamper progress. I’ve been involved in lots of things that no one showed up for. Not the first time, not the second time, but maybe a little more the third time. Seeds rarely bear fruit immediately. It takes time for the early adopters to spread the word and for the planners to learn from error and trial until new ministry evolves into something wonderful.

As an extreme introvert, I am all too well acquainted with that other fear, the fear that says, “Uh-oh! This is working. People signed up. Now what do I do?” It’s up to us to remember that God is right there with us, beside us and in us. God wants us to succeed in our expressions of baptism. And we will, with God’s help.

Are you and your congregation ready to let yourselves dance? Can you get your mind around the immense potential of a community whose leadership uses gifts and offerings wisely, expanding the capacity of baptismal living? Can you see a future—or better yet, a present—in which we each take our part in the Kingdom of God on Earth, bringing forth our offerings with gladness? Can you hear the joyful noise of abundance, to which the only possible response is the exuberance of David, the unbounded delight of dancing in the presence of the Lord?

Amen indeed!

[i] Revised Common Lectionary Prayers, proposed by the Consultation on Common Texts (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002)  p. 135


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