I’ve been reading the memoirs of a contemporary politician, as I have in times past when books have been published. I find them inspiring in a strange sort of way. Whether or not agree with all of their ideas, they are leaders. I look for what it is they hold onto that makes them tick, those deeply held beliefs that drive them to serve against all odds.
This time around, it has spurred me to think of my own core values. What are the primary things I believe? In addition to gospel essentials, of course, what are the things I will always go to bat for, that I will pursue no matter what?
Once, at a going away party hosted by the church I had been serving, they recalled the things they had heard me say. Much of this was for the sake of humor, of course, like the time I had said in staff meeting, “we don’t want people in wheelchairs tripping over wires.“
Reading the memoir got me to thinking what I’d like to be remembered for.
What are the essentials that I live for? The stakes I have in the ground? The points of no departure, no matter how much pressure I feel?
So I have come up with a few. Some are phrases I picked up from friends, some I’ve lived with for years, and some are fresh expressions.
I confess that these are somewhat random. Some are theological, some are inspirational, and others are leadership principles. That’s just the way they came to me.
- Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is more people who are fully alive. (from Howard Thurman)
- I am not what I do, nor what I have, nor what other people think of me. I am a beloved child of God. (from Henri Nouwen)
- God is love. This is not just sentimentality. This means if it is not loving, it is not of God. Period.
- If you are looking for the perfect church, you won’t find one. If by chance you do, don’t join it. You’ll mess it up.
- Self-giving love is the most powerful force in the universe. Really.
- Jesus boiled it down to love of God and neighbor. Everything else is secondary.
- Christianity is not about being right. It’s about being in relationship.
- Religion can get really out of whack when it gets confused with politics.
- It’s better not to wrestle alligators. They know how to fight in the swamp. If there is a way to drain the swamp, do that. Otherwise stay out, because if you get pulled in, you’ll lose. (from a friend Don Neal)
- If you have integrity, that’s all that matters. If you don’t have integrity, that’s all that matters.(from a friend Lem Carter).
- The Church is not perfect. But it’s the gift God gave us. That makes it my hope for the world. (from my friend Stewart Jackson)
- The true measure of Christianity is faithfulness, not success. The reason we get this mixed up is institutional anxiety about loss. When the church focuses on success, it has sold itself out to culture.
- There is no right or wrong worship style. Jesus’s only requirements were that it be done in spirit and truth. That means it must be led with a sense of God’s presence and a willingness to take a theological plunge.
- Christian life is about rhythm that forms you over time. This is not a quest for the fantastic.
- I am not responsible for everything. That’s God‘s job.
- The Church is the body of Christ. It’s a mystery. There’s a reason the gospel uses metaphorical language for it.
- You cannot grasp God and you can not master the Bible. Let God grab your attention, and let the scripture master you.
- God is profound mystery. Certainty is a myth. Listen for the still, small voice.
- Christianity is about being continually restored into the image of Christ. Your decision to follow is important, but grace didn’t start there and doesn’t quit after that.
- Christ must not be reduced to being “my personal savior.” He calls me to live the values of the kingdom of God. If I do that, somebody is not going to like it.
- Christianity is not about being a fan, it’s about being a follower. We don’t need pep rallies, we need authentic and heart-felt yearning.
- There is a reason the first name for Christianity was The Way. It is a path, a journey. You never get “there.”
- There is great diversity within Christianity about political issues. God made the diversity beautiful. It’s us who make it ugly.
- There is evil in the world, and Christians should call it out. But be prepared to pay a price.
- I can’t control other people‘s actions. If I live the love God has placed in my heart, that is all I can do.
- The miracle of Easter is the miracle of worship. Jesus shows up.
- Worship is not an event. It is a life.
- If we don’t get things perfectly right, God is not mad.
- Praise is not something you do. It is something you join.
- Even with the immense responsibilities of being savior of the world, Jesus took time for himself. Do I think I have more important things to do than Jesus?
- I don’t talk about people. I talk to them. Otherwise, how can I expect people to do the same with me?
- Forgiveness is the most essential practice in church. That’s because the Church is a big rehearsal for life in heaven, where we will let it all go.
- My life is about practicing the presence of God. It’s called practice, because I’m still trying to get it right.
- There is no replacement for gentleness and kindness. They are sweet but they are also not optional.
- Nothing good comes after the phrase “I’m just being honest.” Speaking truth in love is absolutely necessary.
- Fundamentalism and prosperity are the two uniquely American derivatives of real Christianity.
- You can’t draw from an empty well. I must take time to nourish my own spirituality.
- Living your baptism is living the deepest truth of who you are as God’s beloved.
- All are welcome at the table because it’s a table of grace.
- I have high expectations of what it means to be in Christian community. That comes with a price. Sometimes people will let me down.
- The way of the cross is the best way to respond to conflict. It’s not fight or flight, it’s a third way, the Christ way. It’s not winning. But it’s also not losing, because if we are faithful to the gospel, that’s all that matters.
- Love hurts, especially when someone betrays your trust. But the only love other people can have for you is imperfect love. We get our unconditional love from God.
- The Bible is the unfolding revelation of God’s love. Don’t read it “flat.” The best way to interpret it is through the lens of Christ, who is himself the Word of God.
- The only true leadership is servant leadership. Teamwork was the way of Jesus, and it’s the only way to change the world. I am not a Lone Ranger.
- God is not finished with us yet. We are always being formed and shaped.
I’m sure I could come up with more.
If my ministry is being a tabernacle (a place of God’s dwelling on this temporary journey we call life), these are the stakes I shove in the ground. They are the values I carry from place to place, as I set up a tent and invite others to experience God with me while I’m here on earth.
What would yours be?
Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.