I recently re-read the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, two letters from Paul to what was likely a group of small house-churches of new believers. What strikes me as I read these two books is how these people relatively new to the faith are trying to do the best they could in an environment that could be challenging at best and dangerous at worst for believers in the risen Christ.
Paul obviously couldn’t be with them all the time, thus the two letters. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14-16, Paul gives some helpful instructions.
“Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are disorderly. Comfort the discouraged. Help the weak. Be patient with everyone. Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. Rejoice always.”
I think Paul meant these instructions to be between people and between bodies of believers in Jesus. Help the weak person, and help the weak body of believers. Warn brothers and sisters who are disorderly, and warn fellow bodies of believers who are being disorderly. Comfort the discouraged person, and comfort the discouraged body of believers.
You get my point.
In 21st century language, Paul was giving some instructions to a network of churches. That word — “network” — has grown in importance in the Great Plains Conference since the arrival of Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. in September 2016. Put simply, networks are groups of churches and their leaders — clergy and lay — who work together within a shared context to build each other up, help address each other’s concerns, and share their strengths with each other. All of that furthers the mission of our connected churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Starting the day this blog publishes — Aug. 21, 2019 — Bishop Saenz is under way on a series of visits to all 17 Great Plains Conference districts. In this round of visits he is speaking with clergy on a number of subjects. One of those subjects is the importance of living fully into this concept of networks. We live in an era when the denomination is facing challenges from within and from the outside. Societal changes including, frankly, our own apathy about sharing our amazing faith stories has caused the church to be supplanted in importance in many of our communities.
It may be more important now than ever to live up to the words that Paul provided to the churches at Thessalonica, to help each other along this winding journey and to have each other’s backs.
Networks provide that opportunity. We have a page dedicated to this subject on the conference’s website — www.greatplainsumc.org/networks. If you haven’t checked it out in a while, please consider giving it a look. Here is just some of what we have gathered for that page: