This past weekend I had the opportunity to preach my first sermon. In doing so I inadvertently frustrated most of my family because I kept this a closely guarded secret. It was not that I did not want my family to have the opportunity to hear me, it was just that I was so nervous the last thing I wanted to do was crash and burn in front of my mom.
My sermon was based upon Acts 2, Pentecost, more specifically the community that was created out of that event. My goal was the highlight the idea that Christianity grew because of the work of the community and not because of the acts of individuals.
Many of you might read this as a dig at the church I grew up in and that is simply not the case. And I hope that you do not read the text or listen to my words and walk away with that idea.
You can listen to the audio here. Here is the manuscript:
In August, Dennis and Jason were searching for a “note-worthy” speaker to preach this weekend. And here I am. When Jason first told me, I mean asked me if I would preach this weekend two thoughts immediately jumped in my head.
- This gives me a 20 minute block for an infomercial about Fat Tuesday, which is on Tuesday… tickets are still available; and,
- Excitement. I usually ONLY get to interact with the youth and kids of the church. And now, here I am getting to introduce myself to you all and interact with “grown-ups”.
For those of you that I have not had the pleasure of meeting or getting to know, my name is Teer Hardy. I am the Director of Youth Ministries here at Aldersgate, a second year student at Wesley Theological Seminary, and married to my “high school sweetheart”. Allison and I have been married for a little over three years, and have two dogs: Rufus and Rosie Penelope (yes, I named Rosie).
Seven months ago my life drastically changed. For six years I worked for Siemens as a technician and project manager, and was on a contract providing technical security support to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the Department of State. I enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary in the fall of 2011 and I anticipate graduating in the spring of 2015 with a Master of Divinity… yes 2015. I am a candidate for ordination in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. AFTER I graduate from Wesley it will take three years for me to be ordained. For those of you doing the math, that is 2018, half-way through the next presidential administration.
There are many of you who might think that I received my call to ministry as an interruption during my time at the Department of State, that seminary and ministry were a shock to me. But that just is not the case. The fact of the matter is that I felt the call to ministry while I was finishing high school. Before I had headed off to college I knew that I was called to ministry, specifically at the time my call was to work with youth. I went to college and ignored my calling. I studied Criminal Justice, joined a fraternity, and had the stereotypical fraternity guy college experience. Looking back I avoided me call.
I was terrified. Why on earth would God call someone like me to ministry? So I did the only rational thing I could think of, I attempted to ignore God. This call though, kept tugging on me. I was persistent and determined to ignore my call, but God is persistent too. And You see, I grew up in the church but the church I grew up in did not push me to take God’s claim on me. I am the product of a single-mother, lower-middle-class family and, grew up in a white suburban neighborhood. As a kid I attended a United Methodist Church in Frederick, Maryland. This church is a beautiful cathedral style church full of stained glass windows, peal bells, and a large organ. On any given Sunday morning you can hear a different choir, musical ensemble, or guest soloist. The youth programs at my church boasted large numbers every Sunday night.
It was not uncommon to have over 60 kids on a weekly basis. The group was held together by a dedicated team of volunteers who made it their mission to ensure the youth programs would continue even though the position of youth director seemed to have a revolving door attached to it. The last youth director stopped in to gain community support as he was preparing to make a run for local political office. My spiritual development, as an adolescent, was influenced by the church I grew up in. Twenty years of my life were spent in the same faith community and I can tell you that not much changed over those twenty years. Each week the same service occurred, and to be honest, with pastors who lacked excitement for what they preached and a congregation that lacked excitement for the transformation that could be possible through their hands.
The church I grew up in was comfortable with their status quo. Church had been done that way since the building was open, and will probably be done like that for as long as I’m alive. I don’t want you to get me wrong, there are a lot of good people there, who love God, serve their community, and grow in faith together. BUT, in my experience it was largely a congregation who showed up on Sunday morning, said their prayers, and consumed their way through their faith as they expected their pastors to do their faith for them each week. The pastors, in the church I attended as a kid, practiced their faith… everyone else sat in the seats, observed, and consumed.
When we are comfortable with the status quo and operate in an environment where our pastors are the only people who do the work of the church, someone like me can fall through the cracks. And if we are a denomination and church that wants to attract younger members and reverse our decline WE, a collective we need be active in ministry; and not just a handful of folks who are on the church’s payroll. WE, again the collective we, need to prod and encourage one another to take up lay ministry.
In the beginning of the second chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit descends through fire on a group of 150 people, and as a result the gathered assembly begins speaking in different languages. The Holy Spirit did not select a few of the apostles or select two random people from this large group. The author of Acts tells us that all were believers together. ALL, as in a community.
The early church, the rag-tag group that gathered in the years following the resurrection of Christ depended upon one another. The second chapter of Acts also tells us about a community that sold their personal possessions, pooling their resources and developing a reliance upon one another. Now, I am not up here to pitch a new church initiative of communal living, where we all live on the same street or in gated-compound. However, Acts does tell us that as these early Christians gathered daily to worship, eat community meals, and praise God their numbers grew!
The first church, the church of Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, and Paul did not grow in numbers because of great a staff or facility to meet in. The first church grew because its members were genuine in the way they approached their faith and relationship not only with Christ but with one another. Christianity grew because of the influence the community.
And there is one last distinction I want us to pay attention to. There’s no distinction between clergy and laity...the community shared in the ministry together. This is what Jesus’ death, resurrection and Spirit created. A community, that shares in life and ministry with one another. My call to ministry came to me when I was seventeen years old. For nine years I avoided and denied my calling. I did not have a community that pushed me and challenged me to step into the role God was asking me to.
The church I grew up in was not responsible for me answering my call. This community is. You are. Dennis, Jason, and the leadership of this church put their faith in me, by giving me a place to learn and grow where I would have the opportunity to answer me call. The leadership of this community challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. Not only was the challenge issued, but there was support along the way when I needed it. I was not allowed to settle for good enough, or to just consume my way through church.
Showing up was not enough for me and it's not enough for you.
The church I grew up gave me a blurred vision of what a church and faith community is supposed to be. Allison and I moved to Virginia a little over four years ago. We began attending Aldersgate while we were engaged and were “shopping” for a minister to perform our wedding ceremony. Due to my experiences as a kid, I was apprehensive when the Gospel was preached as something we did and not just good idea It was not until just after our wedding, the week after our honeymoon that I found out that Aldersgate did put its faith into action, as when I was asked to go on a mission trip with your kids to the Jeremiah Project. I was not ready, nor was Allison, for how that action would shape us.
This community has shaped me. You all have shown me what a congregation can do when they decide to act upon the creeds and statements of faith they recite. Aldersgate has made an investment in me and as a faith community is taking an active role in helping me to discern my call to ministry. This community has been a powerful influence on me. This community has shown me, through intentional faith development and missions, what a church community can really be.
You see, I avoided my call for many years - partly because I was not part of a community that pushed me and challenged me to seek out what God was calling me to do. This community that would not allow me to be content with the status quo, a community does not allow its members to sit on the sidelines and “do church”, this community requires its members to be the church, to be Christ in the community; not allowing its members to quietly sit four rows from the back, like I tried to do, and just show up on Sundays.
So here comes the challenge part. Here comes the part where I say that we cannot be happy with the status quo. Here’s the part where I prod and poke you, just as this community has prodded and poked me to get out of my comfort zone, it's now time for me to return the favor.
- If you think God wants you to serve locally or in Guatemala, sign up.
- If you think God has called you to work with children, teach a Sunday School class or help with VBS.
- If you think maybe God has called you to plant a new congregation, plant that congregation.
- If God has called you to ministry, minster to the person next to you, your neighbor, and your community.
- If you want to grow in your faith, join a small group and grow together.
We cannot get comfortable in our faith, we cannot be content to have the same church and the same faith that we grew up with. We cannot be content to allow our pastors to do the work we should be doing. If that was the case, I would still be part of the 96% of my generation that do not attend church, holding onto the idea that the church has no relevance in my life. This church, this community, has the opportunity to transform lives. We need to poke and prod at one another, to ensure we live up to the full potential of the call God has placed on each of us.