Invisible Ministry

Many older congregations across rural North Carolina ask themselves the same question: how can we bring younger generations in to our church?

The question itself is the wrong question to ask. Before even talking about “bringing young people”, the church must ask itself how it is witnessing God. And the church typically responds that it is witnessing God through serving the community through various outreach events.

But, these outreach events, designed to reach out to the community, tend to become “self-service outreach events.” The outreach events actually become “insular” – catering to the people who are like us. Ultimately, we suffer from the limits of our own expectations.

While we are limited to our own expectations, I think we can develop outreach ideas by observing and understanding what is happening in our community. We have to follow Karl Barth’s slogan: Christians should always have the bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. Specifically in these times in North Carolina, the church can do something about the rising number of hungry children and the limitation of the public education.

Today, North Carolina is in a heated debate concerning teacher’s salary. Yet, just raising the salary of the teachers will not alone improve children’s performance in the classroom. Teachers need more than just a salary increase. In North Carolina alone, roughly 28 percent of children struggle with hunger.[1] Hunger easily creates a toxic learning environment. Teachers need help filling the needs of the impoverished kids who are struggling with just surviving life.[2]

One of the ways that rural churches can witness God in this situation is by sponsoring a backpack ministry for a local school. A backpack ministry provides a needy child with a backpack filled with food each Friday that will help them cover one weekend. Another way for the rural church to witness is by sponsoring a school. The church can assist a school in buying the school supplies that the school needs in order to have a somewhat functioning classroom. The church also can provide volunteers to assist teachers and their students, in order that children may have a more effective learning environment.

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I refer to these ministries as invisible ministries. By invisible ministries, I mean that these are thankless ministries. All the work is done behind the scenes. However, to me, these invisible ministries speak volumes. In fact, these ministries are prophetic in North Carolina. Instead of just expressing our opinion on Facebook or Twitter, we are putting our convictions into action. We are reaching out to the hungry. We are letting the children to taste and see the reality of the coming Kingdom of God.

The focal point is not to gain a lot of members through these local ministries. No, the important thing is that the church serves the community, and serves in a way that glorifies God. By serving rightly, the church becomes the church that the world needs, not what it wants. In other words, by serving in these invisible ministries, we, the servers, are learning what it means to serve God. Through this service, we ourselves unknowingly come to love Jesus more. By loving more, our eyes and our hearts open up so that the Spirit can move us to bring the people in need to the church.

When we serve, it is not just about achieving something in the name of the Lord, but it is about being closer to God. We are God’s servants. By serving, we are witnessing to God. By witnessing to God, we are unleashing the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that captured the attention of Israelites from the nations around Jerusalem (Acts 2).

We can’t just attract people to our churches on our own strength. Well, we can, but I do not believe that is not how we should grow. Instead, we can witness God through these invisible ministries. Through these invisible ministries, we are then able to unleash the Holy Spirit. And by unleashing the Spirit, we, the servers and the receivers, taste and see the goodness of Jesus Christ. Through tasting the sweetness and the goodness of Jesus Christ, we are then captivated to accept His invitation to the table to “come and see.”

We can’t just sit and ponder why the “younger generations” are not coming to our churches. We just don’t have time for that. Instead, we have to witness Jesus Christ to others by serving the broken world around us. And by witnessing and serving in invisible ways, we are unleashing the Holy Spirit to those who we serve. In other words, by serving rightly, we are letting God move powerfully in their lives.

-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow


[1] Statistic from http://nc.nokidhungry.org/hunger-north-carolina

[2] Moreover, by reaching out to children in rural schools, churches can reach the “younger generations” that they seem to lack.

 

A Glimpse

Chemotherapy.

For those who have never experienced or watch a loved one go through cancer treatment, it’s a difficult concept to grasp.

Cancer will kill you. And yet, the most pervasive treatment for cancer, chemotherapy, can also kill you.[1] It works by targeting and killing cancerous cells in the body, but at the same time, the treatment also “accidentally” attacks healthy parts of the body. It is a treatment that is toxic to the body and it comes with a deluge of painful side effects.

Fatigue. Constant aches. Grogginess. Sleepless nights.  Nightmares. Simultaneously feeling hungry and nauseatingly sick of food.

These side effects last for a week or more, as the body tries to recover from the onslaught of drugs it has taken in.

The concept of chemotherapy is strange one: destroy parts of your body to a point so that it can recover itself cancer-free. This treatment concept seems counterintuitive, yet I believe it can help us understand the workings of our own resurrection in Christ.

Many of us question the concept of resurrection. Why do we have to die in order to have a new body? Why is death involved?

We cannot completely answer the mystery, but we get a glimpse of the mystery of the resurrection by looking at how modern medicine relies on our bodies: nearly killing a person so that the person can recover cancer-free. Through the near-death experience, we hope to be healthier and better.

The-Resurrection

In the process of being resurrected in Christ, we must kill or reject of ourselves, parts that are obviously bad, as well as parts that seem good. The process may feel painful or fruitless. It may feel much worse to go through the process of rejecting our sinful ways rather than going on living in ignorance of our diseased and dying bodies.

But do not forget that cancer and sin alike, no matter how much we try to avoid the pain and consequences, will slowly shut down our bodies and souls. Only when we are willing to let go of it all, when we are ready to place our trust in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, can we be rebuilt and restored into good health. And that, is the beautiful part; in Christ, we are strong enough to grow and become more like our resurrected selves.

Being resurrected through death is a counterintuitive concept, but at the same time it makes sense. We see a glimpse of this mystery through painful chemotherapy treatments. The medicine places its hope in this concept of nearly killing a person so that the person could get better and healthier.

However,  sometimes, people lose their battle from the difficult chemotherapy treatments, and  people struggle to recover completely from the side effects. While our “pseudo” method of resurrection does not guarantee full recovery, we believe that our resurrection in Christ will certainly lead us to a new perfect body. We believe that we will truly be delivered from sin in our resurrected bodies, which frees us from pain and suffering that is present in this broken world.

- James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

Church is the mission

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The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

These were the last words that Jesus spoke to his disciples when he ascended into Heaven. And in this statement, we, as the church, are tasked with being the witnesses of Jesus Christ as the Son of God through the Holy Spirit.

The church exists because Jesus Christ commanded it, and the church exists because God has a mission, which is revealed through Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus Christ told us that we, with the Holy Spirit, will witness Him through all the ends of the earth. This mission from God can be found in a powerful narrative, where we learn that God rescued the lost and the broken world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The church and its mission are completely part of God. According to Richard Hays, the church is empowered by the Holy Spirit to reenact the loving obedience of Jesus Christ and serve as a sign of God’s redemptive purpose for the world.[1] The church is an extension of God’s mission – nothing less and nothing more.

If this is the case, then the mission of the church is not something that the church does in order to show the world, nor is the mission some sort of checklist in order to win an accolade or recognition. Instead, the mission is like the account of Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit arrests an audience’s attention and makes them receptive to hearing the Gospel. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian martyr, suggests, Christianity is not primarily about a person’s own concerns, interests, or mission. Rather, it is about being caught up, swooped up, in the way of Jesus Christ.

The church serves because God empowers us to serve. The church reaches out to the needy and the poor because God exposes us to feel the pain of the poor and the hungry. We do not serve others in order to somehow“win them” to Christ  through our own actions, but because God taught us to serve through His perfect Love. God is the primary actor who moves us so that we can become the church, which is the mission.

This concept of mission is somewhat different from what we may think of as missions. But, thinking of the church as the mission may be more fruitful for the rural church. Instead of focusing on what the church should do, the church can focus on witnessing Jesus Christ, which is the mission that we are already tasked to do. In what ways are we witnessing Jesus Christ to the world? In what ways are we led by the Spirit? Are we witnessing Christ?

We, as ministers, must leave some sort of room for the Holy Spirit to lead us to be the church. We, as ministers and leaders of the rural churches, have to be patient. We have to fervently wait so God can transform us and move us without us knowing how!

The number of different mission committees a church decides to form does not define the church doing missions. Instead, the church is the mission. The mission that invites everyone to experience God’s saving love, which empowers us to participate and witness the Truth and Everlasting Love.

- James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

 


[1] Richard Hays. The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

As a chapter ends, a new one begins

Graduating Rural Fellows! Missing Nate and Adam.

Graduating Rural Fellows with Director Brad Thie! Missing Nate and Adam.

Last week, we celebrated the rural fellow graduates. We celebrated the achievements of finishing their degrees. But more importantly, we celebrated their calling, a calling to serve in rural places using their gifts.

For many, entering into ministry is not attractive. Entering into the “dwindling” rural ministry is even more unattractive.

Yet, somehow, we are drawn to rural areas. No matter how we articulate our calling, we are convicted that we should serve those rural people whom the church tends to neglect because of their perceived arrogance, indifference, and lack of “worldly” experience.

While others flee the sinking ship, we take a deep breath and stay on board hoping that we can stabilize the ship. While many people escape the burning building, we take courage and go in to put out the fire. Will we succeed—who knows? Is it our place to determine success? How can we say we have succeeded in God’s ministry if the ministry belongs to God? All we can do is to proclaim that we are humbly led to serve the rural churches with our best of our abilities.

We hold onto our faith like Moses. Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land for 40 years but he himself did not reach the Promise Land. Even the great prophet could not set his feet on the Promise Land, but still, he did not blame God. Moses understood that he was a servant of God doing God’s ministry. Being the servant of God was more important to him than achieving something for God’s ministry. Likewise, we celebrate with the graduates that calling, the calling to be the servant of God.

A new chapter begins not only for lives of the graduated fellows, but also for the Thriving Rural Community. A new chapter begins for the current rural fellows as well. We are forming our calling so that it is fitting to the theme of this book that is in the making, a book that tells a narrative of serving the rural ministry, a ministry that we all hold precious.

The Rural Fellows graduating this year ends one chapter of that book. May God bless their humble hearts. May God give them the strength to do His work in the rural areas. Lift high the cross! So that the love of Christ proclaim! May God bless you and keep you. May he make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May he lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.

-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

Happy belated Easter!

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?”
“Where, O death, is your sting?”[1]

Happy belated Easter! We worship our Lord because He has risen from the dead and He has won the victory over death. But what does it mean that Jesus has overcome death? And what does it mean that death lost its sting?

Here, William F. May[2] helps us to articulate this powerful event. May suggests that we are terrified by death because death threatens to separate humankind in three ways: separate from its flesh, the community, and relationship with God. When death threatens to separate us from our flesh, it also threatens us with comprehensive loss of possession and control of our universe. Death takes us apart from what we have: our agency. Death also threatens to tear us apart from our community. Death takes away our husbands, wives, fathers, sons, and tears apart loved ones from one another for the rest of their lives. Lastly, death threatens us with separation from God. We are separated from our God, the comforter.

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Image from: http://www.gohchurch.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/easter-cross.jpg

However, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead shows us that death can still menace, but it can no longer make good on its threats. Through Jesus’ resurrection, we realize that that our flesh will somehow still exists with us. Jesus did not appear to his disciples with a ghoulishly divested of a body. Instead, he appeared in his complete and perfect form in a body that still resembled something of a flesh. Moreover, we will not be torn apart from our community. Instead, Jesus has shown us that there will be an eternal community filled with righteousness, joy, and peace. Lastly, Jesus has revealed to us through his death and resurrection that neither life, nor death, nor the failure of Christians, will be able to separate humanity from the love of God. Death will not separate us from God.

Thinking about death in these three ways helps us to understand just a part of what it really means for Jesus to take the victory and sting away from death. And, let us not forget to praise and worship Jesus as our Lord, as our Savior, and as our Messiah because he is the one that revealed to us that we should not be afraid of death.

-James Kim
M. Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

 


[1] 1 Corinthians 15:54-56.

[2] William F. May, “The Sacral Power of Death in Contemporary Experience.”

Precious Memories

Whenever there is an unusual long and cold winter, the Church tends to lose many of its faithful elderly members. I recently have witnessed a lot of saints leaving this world to rest in peace with God. These unfortunate and sad events have influenced me to reflect about death, the inevitable event that we all have to face at some point in our lives.

The passing of our loved ones brings immense grief for our family members and our church members. When our loved ones pass way, we are in grief because they will be physically missing from our lives. All the joyful times that we have shared with this person seem to disappear and vanish.

In this culture of being obsessed with “right now”, we have to remember that death, where everything ceases to be, is not the greatest evil. Allen Verhey urges us to remember that while death is evil, it is not the greatest evil.

Their absence from this world should bring memories. Memories that were precious. Memories that made us laugh and cry. Those memories are painful, but we have to grapple with these memories so that they become precious memories.

Precious memories, unseen angels,
Sent from somewhere to my soul.
How they linger, ever near me,
And the sacred past unfolds.[1]

Certain places, things, colors, smells will remind us of the loved ones we lost. The process of making these reminders into precious memories can be painful and sad, as it requires us to live through them. It brings feelings of bitterness, which are inevitable. And yet, bitterness leads us to forget the precious memories that are hidden within us. Death cannot reverse itself. It is an eternal consequence. Without a doubt, there is pain. Without a doubt, we are never prepared for death.

Precious memories how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul.
In the stillness, of the midnight.
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

Though they maybe not be with us physically, they are with us spiritually. But what does that mean? Perhaps, the prayers that they have prayed on this earth are still with us. Their prayers help us to hold onto the precious memories. And their prayers shall be with us until we, ourselves, leave this world.

I remember Mother praying
Father too, on bended knee
the sun is sinking, shadows falling
but their prayers still follow me

Memories of our lost loved ones should not be stifled in bitterness, but the memories should be embraced and kept as our most valuable treasure. Even if their presence is absent from this world, their imprint on our lives through their prayers lasts and stays with us until we leave this world.

Precious memories how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul.
In the stillness, of the midnight.
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

As we reflect on Good Friday today, we must somehow come to grips with the realization that death is real. Our savior died. It was evil. But, Professor Verhey’s spirit whispers to remind us. He whispers to remind us that death is not the greatest evil…

©iStockphoto.com/Richard Goerg

©iStockphoto.com/Richard Goerg

 

-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow


[1] Precious Memories is a traditional gospel hymn first composed by J.B.F Wright in 1925.

Worship – its significance

As we re-launch this blog, I wanted to start out with one of the basics—worship. Worship is the heart of Christian life for all Christians – pastors, church leaders, and congregation alike. So, I would like to begin where we must all begin our Christian lives.

Worship is significant because it is our purpose in life. In other words, life is a rehearsal for worship within an eschatological perspective. Worship, then, is the universal claim that invites people to unite towards a common destination – not to dissent about where they are coming from. Worship becomes an act that Christians carry out together in order to witness to God’s world.[1] If we frame our understanding of worship in these ways, it helps us to remember that worship empowers us to recognize who we are in the world as Christians. Worship helps us to recognize that we are broken people who are yearning for God, the incarnate Son, and the Great Comforter.

However, in order to worship properly, ministers and leaders are tasked with tremendous amount of background work. First, ministers are to know their congregation in their context. Through developing relationships, ministers unearth the hidden brokenness that was underneath the masks of smiles. Developing relationships leads to trust, which creates space for people to bring their deeper problems and struggles to the Light. In other words, trust enables honest worship, which allows the congregation to properly worship God through having the right posture, the posture of humility and dependence.

In addition to the task of developing relationships, ministers and leaders of the church are also tasked to provide new insights with new languages to describe our broken world so that our worship becomes more faithful. As Dirkie Smit suggests that the worship impacts who we are and how we live. Worship is the primary place where many of us learn to see the world with our Christian eyes.[2] Therefore, worship cannot be a mirror of its culture, but it must be a different place where it provides a counter-narrative rooted in the gospel. Worship cannot reinforce our cultural belief, but worship should give new languages to problems and issues so that the congregation is empowered to see the world with their Christian eyes. And as ministers, we are able to do this task through our preaching. We should take time to deliver the message that speaks the language of the people to help them think more about God. We are to nurture our congregation’s conviction in order that they can live in a pattern of life that they already know are good, but resist.

Cross in the Goodson Chapel, Duke Divinity School

Cross in the Goodson Chapel, Duke Divinity School

However, our preaching should not be sparknotes of right answers to our faith and struggles; instead, our primarily task is for our preaching to point to Christ. By pointing to Christ, the worship leads the congregation to focus on the communion table and remember the last meal. By pointing to Christ, worship leads the congregation to recognize the cross and realize the True Love shown by God through Jesus Christ.[3] By pointing to Christ, we let the Holy Spirit lead us to worship God in a way that transforms our lives so that we are able to live out our Christian journey more faithfully.

Worship is significant because our Christian purpose is to worship. Worship is significant because proper worship points to the Kingship of Christ that empowers us to live out the gospel narrative in the world. Worship is significant because worship transforms us to live our lives more faithfully.

Proper worship does not happen in one day. A proper worship happens when the Holy Spirit leads us into uncomfortable, painful, and fruitful relationships with our congregation, and when the Holy Spirit directs our message to point to Christ. A proper worship is only carried out when God comes into our lives and transforms us so that our lives becomes the worship – the proper worship that pleases God.

- James Kim
M.Div 2015, Rural Fellow


[1] This list is from the article, “Christian Ethics as Informed Prayer”, written by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells.

[2] From the article, “Worship – and civil Society? Perspectives from a Reformed Tradition in South Africa”,written by Dirkie Smit.

[3] From the article,  “Gathering: Worship, Imagination, and Formation”, written by Philip Kenneson.

Hinton Rural Life Center Experience

Dear brothers and sisters, here is more about the Hinton Rural Life Center trip from Rebekah Shuford:

Hello Everyone! I hope this post finds you all well and not at all stressed! Ok, maybe we are stressed but hey, not much longer for students!

I would like to share with you some things about our trip to Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, NC. We were able to participate in a way, which I had not originally planned. Kevin Bates and I were needed to lead teams; therefore, our group was split into two groups and we were able to join the group from Robert Morris University from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They were a group of students wishing to experience an alternative spring break! My group was all girls, except for our own Rev.* Josh Britton. We were able to bond with them and get to know them. There was also a group from University of Virginia, which comprised of the Wesley Foundation and Hillel Group. Interestingly, this group was more inclined to experience the educational aspect of being at Hinton over the relational aspect. You can see their blog post here:
http://mobile.bjcatuva.hillel.org/home/studentlife/blog/posting/14-03-14/Service_In_Appalachia.aspx

Hinton

So, with the Wesley Foundation, the Hillel Group, and my new friend from Saudi Arabia, Kahlud, all three Abrahamic traditions were represented at Hinton Rural Life Center. It was pretty awesome, but I’m sure only a divinity school nerd would find this great. Who knows, but I was excited!

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My team was able to help Ms. Lynn Dehart, an older lady who has trouble with her balance. We were able to clean up her yard and stain her deck. We were also able to fix her inside window, which was not installed correctly, which she was very excited about! Eventually we helped her neighbor by pressure washing her carport in order to repaint it. Mrs. Davis was just as kind and wonderful as Mrs. Dehart and both were ever so grateful for our help. It was quite funny how our Pittsburgh friends did not know what to do when other neighbor came over and playfully bickered with Ms. Lynn!

Monday night, at supper, we were joined by Rev. Mike Shuford from First UMC- Sylva, Rev. Amy Spivey, resident Chaplain at Hinton, and Rev. Dr. Tim Moore, chaplain at Young Harris University in Young Harris, Georgia. They shared their insights from their vast experiences in ministry. Wednesday, we joined Hayesville First UMC to help serve at their weekly free community dinner. We learned about Communities in Schools, which helps children K-12th grades succeed in school and reduce the dropout rate and boost the graduation rate. As we helped serve, I was able to meet a member of the church who was originally from Queens, NY. How she found Hayesville from Queens, I am not sure, but she was a very interesting lady. I had met the members of the UMAR group home last summer, and it was wonderful to see them there again with their smiling faces!

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We had a wonderful time; we met new friends, did some good for the community, and were able to grow in community with one another (i.e. Kevin and Josh’s room got t.p.ed). I hope everyone will try to take part for next year because it is such a wonderful resource available to churches for a mission trip right in your own back yard! I pray for all of you! I pray that God will bless you in every part of your journey!

-Rebekah Shuford
M.Div 2014, Rural Fellow

 

The Heart of God

The Thriving Rural Communities Initiative is a partnership of the DukeEndowment, Duke Divinity School, and both North Carolina Conferences of the Methodist Church.  Thriving Rural Communities Initiative exists to serve Rural Communities and Churches to help them thrive and flourish as God intends.  At the heart of the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative are Rural Fellows.  Rural Fellows are students at the Divinity School who have experienced a calling to serve God as Pastors—Pastors specifically called to serve the Rural Church.  They receive full tuition scholarships so they can serve the Rural Church unencumbered by seminary debt.

This week, three of the Rural Fellows are at Hinton Rural Life Center, a Jurisdictional ministry of the United Methodist Church located in Hayesville, North Carolina.  Pastors and Laity live in residence here for short-term missions.  They are here from all over the country to learn, to be in mission in rural places, and to care for home owner repairs.  This mission to care for homeowner repairs has brought students here this week from Duke Divinity School, University of Virginia, and Robert Morris University.  They are of various faith backgrounds:  Christian, Jewish, and students who just want to make a difference in the world by providing homeowners with safer, warmer, and drier living environments.  Their sacrifice during school spring break is a testimony to their desire to serve.

Hinton Rural Life Center

Hinton Rural Life Center

Hinton also has a heart for small congregations.  According to their mission, Hinton believes that smaller congregations are actually the “right size” congregations and deserve leaders who can help them claim God’s vision for their church.  To this end, Hinton staff works with local congregations, cooperative ministries, districts, and annual conferences training laity and clergy to become more effective in their ministry.

Thriving Rural Communities is relatively new, in the seventh year of existence, but Hinton Rural Life Center has been faithfully laboring in Rural Appalachia for over 50 years.  The Heart of God has always been in Rural places, because he created them.  When we read the Bible, we find that God has been creating his people through Shepherds like Jacob, a man named Amos who was a dresser of sycamore trees, and Jesus the man born in Bethlehem.  This week, Hinton has affirmed the heart of God for Rural places and people.

-Rev. Brad Thie
Director, Thriving Rural Communities