Pitching Tents

::I wrote the following as a blog post for the WV UMC blog (wvumc.tumblr.com) regarding one of the teaching sessions with Tex Sample at Annual Conference and wanted to share it here as well::

“Ministry with traditional people is in the vein of the craft tradition of knowing.” Tex Sample opened his teaching at Annual Conference with this concept. He defines the craft tradition of knowing in this way: to know how to do something well, one has to participate deeply in a tradition, the practices, and skills of that tradition. It is a question of formation. Each of us is formed by particular communities and traditions that shape the way that we see, smell, hear, taste, and sense the world around us.

When it comes to ministry, we, as the Church, need to recognize the communities and the people which we serve and seek to reach. A natural tendency of the church in today’s world is to retreat into itself, to live in a withdrawn, Christian bubble. Why? Because it’s safe. Because it’s easy. Because we are afraid of being “corrupted” or “conformed” to the image of the world rather than God’s image. This, however, is not who the Church, the Body of Christ, has been called to be. Sample, citing John 1, reminded us that “The Word became flesh and pitched a tent (dwelled, tabernacled) among us.” In the same way, we too, are called to “pitch a tent” among the people we hope to reach and serve. We are called to live with them, love them, and engage in indigenous practices.

He told several powerful stories that described instances in which Christians pitched a tent and crossed barriers: from a man in a wealthy socioeconomic status who began to more fully engage in ministry with the homeless, to a pastor who spoke the language of country music to have a conversation around faith and grief with another man In each case, these stories demonstrated the way in which the tradition of a community of faith shaped by the grace and love of God have formed those individuals. In these stories, the embodied the faith in which they have been, and are continuing to be shaped. As Sample says, “The Christian faith is not a view of life, it is a way of life.”

What does this mean for us? It means that we need to become students of our communities and of the people we serve. It means we need to learn to speak the language, the idioms, and the idiosyncrasies. It means we cannot retreat and remain withdrawn from our communities out of fear or self-preservation, or apathy. Instead, it means we need to know our neighbors. We need to spend time in our communities, and with people. The purpose is not to be like the world, but to engage the world in ways that can be understood and received by those outside of the Christian bubble.

This is certainly a challenge for all of us. It can be frightening to cross barriers, to build bridges, to leave the comfort of our church walls, and to pitch a tent among people who view the world differently. It can be confusing and frustrating, but also full of excitement and adventure. As one who is seeking to learn to do these very things in my own community, I can tell you that I have experienced each of these emotions (sometimes all at the same time!). Thankfully, even in the midst of my fear, I know that Jesus is the one calling me, and all of us, to engage in this work for his kingdom, and I take great comfort and challenge in knowing that our Savior, the Word of God, has already done all of these things when He came and pitched at tent among us! Thanks be to God!