I was at church last night for the third in a five-week series on urban ministry. Ron Ruthruff, director of ministry and program development at New Horizons Ministries (a ministry to urban street youth) in Seattle, has been leading the series. Last night we heard from a panel of speakers. They were each answering theological questions about urban ministry. Each speaker told a unique and compelling story in their answers, but one in particular laid a theological groundwork for urban ministry that I thought would apply wonderfully to creation stewardship and I wanted to share it with you.
The speaker was Tali Hairston, of Seattle Pacific University. He was asked a question about whether we need to have our theology formed before we do missions or whether our mission work should inform our theology. This is the kind of conversation I love! Tali began to answer the question by talking about how he came to SPU. He talked about working with youth, teaching them about Jesus. But one day he was driving in the car with two of the youth - two large and intimidating young men - when one asked, "What is this hallelujah? I've been in this group for years, listening to you talk about Jesus, but I just don't understand any of it." Tali realized that he was trying to reach these youth with a message that had meaning for himself, but had no meaning for them. He had to rethink how he did missional ministry.
The classic model of missions says that we must go to where the gospel has not been heard - where God is not at work - and we must take our understanding of the gospel and give it to the non-believers. Tali's new understanding of missions says that we go to the non-believers and see where God is already at work and join in with that work. When we take that approach, we realize that in the process of doing ministry/missions our theology becomes transformed. We have received more than we have given. Then Tali went on to describe how, when we take on this missional approach to all ministry, we no longer need think-tanks, we need "do-tanks". In the act of doing, we develop our theology and a larger picture of who God is.
It is at this point that I thought, "aha". For a long time, we at Earth Ministry have debated the role of education (think-tank) vs action (do-tank). Ultimately, there is a place for both in doing our work, but I think that many of us get stuck at the thinking stage and fail to do. It is this failure to "do" and have our theology transformed through caring for the environment that keeps us from growing spiritually, as individuals and as a greater church body.
I've noticed this transformation played out in my own environmental stewardship. I am not by any measure the perfect environmental steward, but then again, who among us can cast the first stone? Who among us does not struggle to be the perfect anything? But what I have noticed about myself is that when I learn that a particular behavior needs to be changed, and I change that behavior, it is difficult for me to break the habit and I start taking a very strict line on that one behavior. For example, we compost all of our food waste at home. It is as in-grained in me as breathing! But when I go to my parents' house where they do not have yard waste service let alone food waste service, I cringe everytime I have to put a banana peel in the garbage. I have this urge to find the nearest food waste bin, but none exists. I have become transformed through "doing". That is why our Lenten exercises of being more environmentally sustainable is so important. It is not just about being better stewards, it is about having our theology transformed through the act of bearing the cross of stewardship - "doing".
Have you been stuck in your heard too long and need to take action? If so, where is God calling you to become a do-tank? Don't get stuck in your own or someone else's theology, allow God to transform you through the missional call to action.