The Meaning of COVID.
I have always treasured the writings of Henri Nouwen and many of his words have remained with me on my Christian journey and living in a context of church leadership. One of my favorite challenges and images from Nouwen, is if I was standing on the stage of my life, with no props, or costume, or script, would I be content to live on that stage with nothing but my relationship with Christ? Would every thing both good and bad that brings to me context and meaning, be meaningless in the light of knowing Christ? During this pandemic and turmoil Nouwen’s picture and challenge have often returned to my mind. What is the meaning of COVID rearranging a society and the Church? Personally, COVID did slow me down. Admittedly, cutting off a thumb aided the process. I found more time being with God. One day I just took an inventory of all the ways God has blessed my life. Another day, I took an inventory of my sins. Scripture has spoken louder to me.
During this season the call of the Old Testament prophets spoke the loudest, whether Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, or Jonah, there is this invitation to return to God. As Isaiah speaks for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel in chapter 30, he writes “return to me and rest” and “in quietness and trust” is first your salvation and then your strength. The Kingdom of Judah was in turmoil over whether or not to form an alliance with the Egyptians or the Assyrians. The people had become fear driven, making plans on how to escape, or who to escape to. And once again God pleads for his people to return to Him and receive grace and mercy. There are seasons where God strips us of things; props, backdrops, and costumes, so we can stand, or kneel, or sit with Christ alone. Is my hope in alliances I can make, stuff that I call my own, my own script that I write, and does living in a COVID world reveal these futilities? On a barren stage, or at least a reduced one, partially empty, Christ is closer.
Not only is COVID and turmoil removing and reshuffling our personal props and backdrops, I believe the Holy Spirit is doing the same with the Church. There is a great reduction, and sifting in the Body of Christ. This is a time of jettisoning the props. Simple things become more important: baking bread, writing a note, a phone call and prayer. There are big questions about how to live as the Body Christ during a difficult season. There is grief that Christians can be angrily divided, entrenched in opinions and convictions. But all this need not prevail When all the ways we have “done church” are put on hold, or rearranged, even questioned, we are more inclined to sit with Christ and value each other. The post-COVID church is a church that will need time to understand itself. Maybe our thinking, our presuppositions, will not be clear for another couple of years? There will be ripples upon ripples we have not even anticipated. And there will be temptations to try to “turn back the clock”, or “recapture what we were”. Or a longing for comforts that dishonor our Lord. There are proactive questions to ask our God, “What must we relinquish to receive your future?” “What are You saying to us?” What do we need to repent of?” What do you wish to bless us with?” “How do we obey you?”
When I think of the Body of Christ, I believe we face an historic moment during this time of COVID fatigue and uncertainty. Maybe we are relinquishing Christendom, and receiving Christ in a fresher and deeper way. The COVID meaning is finding again we have no Lord but Christ, no cause but the Gospel, no Truth except what Christ blesses us with. And really no control over immense events, no matter how many scripts we re-write and how many props we place around us. Maybe we are to be delivered from a world of potted plants and elevator music. For Christian and Church, COVID may mean we see Jesus Christ clearer and closer than if a pandemic had never arrived.
In Jesus name,
Matthew Dickerson is no stranger in our region, and he has just come out with a new book: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear. He has been a featured speaker and a featured musician before at Annual Gatherings. He has published 15 books including biography, Christian apologetics, books about C.S.Lewis and story, and books about Christianity and ecology.
We had the opportunity to ask Matthew a few questions about his connection to our region as well as about his new book.
You are no stranger to ABC-VNH over the years. Tell us a little about your connection to our Region.
My wife Deborah and I moved to Vermont 31 years ago, and soon got involved with an ABC church in Middlebury. We have raised all three of our sons in the church, and they’ve all been baptized by our pastor, and at present the two who still live close to us are actively involved in the church. In addition to serving in a wide variety of ministries, capacities, positions in our local church, I have been a featured speaker at one of the ABC-VNH annual conventions, and a musician at another. I have also given concerts at several churches in the region. For several years I helped run a conference on Christianity and the Arts at Gove Hill (before the region had to sell that property). Deborah is now serving as a trustee in the region. So, while I didn’t grow up in a Baptist church, I’ve now spent more than half my life with a deep connection to ABC-VNH.
You have written about a variety of things, both fiction and non-fiction. What drew you to write Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear?
I’ve published more than a dozen books, but while for years I have sensed God’s college to be a communicator—a writer and speaker—this is the first book that I had a very clear sense of calling that I was supposed to write about a very particular topic. In fact, I had been working on a novel at the time, and also on some non-fiction writing about trout, fishing, and river ecology, and I didn’t particularly want to write this book. But the sense of calling was particularly strong, and it didn’t go away or become less compelling after I tried to ignore it for a couple months. So I put down my other projects and started on it.
I think one other thing that probably helped push me to write the book—or to accept the calling to write it—was the death of Eugene Peterson. Peterson had been something of a spiritual mentor to me over the previous eight years through a personal relationship that began with a group of writers of Christian faith that I am a part of (called the Chrysostom Society.) So I was both inspired by the example he had set of disciple making, and also feeling a sense of loss and a need to continue the important work he had invested in. Readers of my book will note that I quote Peterson several times.
How did the process of writing this book change how you view discipleship making?
I think the Biblical teaching is that all believers are called to be makers of disciples, but how we do that can look very different from person to person and even from time to time in the life of one individual. We go through phases in our lives where God may be moving us from one emphasis of ministry to another. Some of the avenues in which I had invested in disciple making were no longer as open to me, and I was in a bit of an in-between time, so writing the book nudged me toward a more intentional seeking of where God would have me invest next.
I’m not sure it changed my fundamental view of the Biblical call to disciple making as much as reinvigorated me or renewed my commitment, and also helped me reflect more carefully on the foundations of disciple making (which I address in the book). It also helped me to think through the great need, in our culture (so dominated by fear and by an unholy striving for power and by an addiction to comfort) for a renewed commitment in the church to deeper faith, which in terms needs deeper discipleship—to use the phrase of Eugene Peterson: a long obedience in the same direction.
I also think that writing this book helped me think through some new connections, and maybe especially the connection between discipleship and spiritual transformation, and the idea that our transformation is both something that the Holy Spirit does within us (that we cannot do to ourselves) and yet something that we must participate in. The New Testament language of spiritual transformation, especially in the writings of Paul, uses both the active and passive voice; transformation is something God does in our lives, but something we must be involved in, or open to. That is also true of the work of making disciples.
Here is a description of Dickerson's new book:
Speaking in and to a culture that worships power and comfort while cultivating fear as a manipulative tool, Matthew Dickerson offers a transformative alternative: authentic discipleship and disciple making. What does it mean to live as disciples of Christ, what would it look like to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and how can we be open to that transformation? How can a follower of Christ live as salt and light in the midst of a power-hungry fear-mongering society? And how can we both teach and model that disciple life as we obey Christ’s command to make disciples? In the tradition of spiritual theology and formation, Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear draws deeply from Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy—viewed as a reflection on Jesus’ great disciple-making commission—as well as on Dickerson’s own experiences in disciple-making ministry on college campuses and his local church. Dickerson’s writing is deeply informed by Scriptures, by the works of such important Christian thinkers, theologians, and writers as Eugene Peterson, John Stott, and Richard Foster, and also by the literature of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien whose works he has been teaching and writing about for more than thirty years.
Rev. Dale Edwards had a chance to read this book, and he writes this:
“Matt Dickerson’s work brings to the forefront that disciples must be truly formed by Christ to be disciple-makers. Matt’s cultural analysis, precise exegesis, while plumbing the writings of Christian saints, coupled with his own journey, unfolds a depth of timeless orthodoxy. Matt Dickerson leads us from cultural conformity, and the solely cognitive, to the soul forming work of Word, words, and Spirit. From this well, disciples and disciple-makers are born. I cannot help recommend this work to all who desire to reach higher and deeper.”
Buy the book here!
As we head into the fall, we’re feeling the effects of an increasingly polarized world. The rise of an “us versus them” mentality seems to be ever-present - even in the church. So, how are we to navigate the complexities and difficulties of this reality?
Author Dick Staub wrote, “When we are faithfully following Jesus we will be too Christian for our pagan friends and too pagan for our Christian friends.” When we follow Jesus faithfully we will find that this is the reality of the overlapped life.
As Christians, we’re called to live with our feet firmly planted in two different worlds: heaven and also earth. Jesus called his followers to pray the Lord’s prayer. That powerful line - your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven - is the overlapping world Jesus wants us to embrace. This heaven-overlapping-with-earth reality is what it means to faithfully follow Jesus - and invite others to follow him, too. But how are we to do that when the polarization seems to grow more intense with each passing week?
In this webinar, J.R. Briggs will:
• Explore the ways in which Jesus lived faithfully in a both/and reality in a divisive world
• See the ways in which the Christian life is found within a healthy kingdom tension
• Discover specific practices which can help us be faithfully overlapping people of God
• Unpack how we must embrace wisdom, courage, and compassion in the days ahead
Join us for this free webinar on this crucial topic for you and your church.
Sept, 1, 2020 // 1:00 PM EST
This update was written by Rev. Vivan Martindale, who serves on the Board of Directors:
Good morning friends and colleagues in the ABC-VNH Region,
A few weeks ago International Ministries (American Baptist Foreign Mission Society) held its first-ever ZOOM World Mission Conference. It was a great disappointment to have to cancel the in-person conference scheduled for Greenlake Conference center. However, we did not want a virus to completely stymie the joy, inspiration and relationships so often found at the conference.
Our home staff and missionaries around the globe put their heads and hearts together and designed five 30 minute events for a digital conference. Usually there would be 200-400 persons attending a conference at Green Lake. This year more than 1100 people tuned in from 29 different countries!! What a great 'real-time' gathering.
That phenomenal experience is not lost! Fortunately, if you were not one of the 1100, you can still soak in the experience by using the link below. There are 5 thirty minute videos of the live and prerecorded experiences presented from all around the globe. They are great for your own information, sharing with your congregation or using in your own small group digital gatherings. There will be a few individuals missing from these recordings for safety and security reasons as their information and identity are not shared on the World Wide Web.
Since I continue to serve as a member of the International Ministries, Board of Directors, please feel free to contact me if you need more information or have any questions. And please feel free to share this link with others.
Let your hearts be warmed and inspired by the work God in Christ is doing through the Holy Spirit and our Global Servants.
His servant and yours,
Rev. Vivan H. Martindale
American Baptist Clergy, Ret.
9 Burgundy Dr.
Hampton NH 03842
The Northern Baptist Education Society for generations has been supporting students as they become prepared for the ministry, and now we have the opportunity to help educated pastors serving local churches. We are trying out a new program to reduce the financial barriers facing recent graduates coming to serve in local churches in Northern New England by creating a Loan Repayment Assistance Program. We seek a creative solution that will work against prevailing trends to encourage educated pastors to come serve our local churches in our regions.
Here are some guidelines for this program. To qualify, applicants would:
If you have any questions about the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, please reach out to Roger Spinney (email@example.com). If you would like an application for the program again reach out to Roger Spinney. The deadline to receive applications for the year 2020 grants is October 15, 2020. Decisions will be made on grants no later than November 20, 2020.
While the board has already allocated funds in starting this program, they are working towards trying to fund this program with donations in order to continue with this program. For those who have already paid off their education debt and would like to help other pastors, Northern Baptist Education Society is raising funds here: https://gf.me/u/x5fhzj
Read what's happening all around the Region!