What would happen if we focused upon Jesus at the center?

It was one of those quick interviews that I sometimes face. I had just preached and served communion for the opening worship of the School of Congregational Development – a gathering of United Methodists from all over the country here in Indianapolis who wanted to focus upon starting new faith communities. Right after that service, as others were greeting me, a young man introduced himself as a reporter and politely asked me this question: "Where do we start, what is most important as we seek to obey the Great Commission (which had been the focus of my message)?" Without a great deal of reflection, I said, "With Christology. We need to focus upon Jesus, who he is, and what he means. Our church is weak in Christology today."

I don't know if my answer is the whole prescription for our United Methodist Church, but I truly believe that we have to focus upon Jesus in order to find the renewal and revival that we seek.

Relatedly, we also need to focus upon soteriology – the meaning of salvation. We have to discover in fresh ways what it means to help individuals, our society, all of creation to be a part of the salvation and wholeness that God intends. We have to understand that people can be lost and without meaning if they are apart from God's way. We have to know the ways in which Jesus is the answer to our "lostness" and provides us with salvation/wholeness/new life.

Christology and its partner soteriology are so often missing from our proclamation, our practices, and our polity as a church. We get busy with a myriad of other things, but too easily neglect the basics of our faith. We neglect Jesus.

At our 2015 Session of the Indiana Conference this year, Cheryl Wyatt sang beautifully the song, "Jesus At the Center." The words include: "Nothing else matters... Jesus at the center of my life, Jesus at the center of the church, Jesus at the center of it all."

What would happen if we focused upon Jesus at the center?

  1. We would be more tolerant and less rigid. To know Jesus and to follow Jesus is to discover his model of openness, hospitality and grace. Too much of what passes for "Christianity" today is rigid, judgmental, and harsh. If we place Jesus at the center we will be a more open church.
  2. We would have a more vital message to share. People in our culture aren't looking for the church to be another self-help kind of organization, or even a civic club that does good things. They are looking for meaning, purpose, focus for their lives. Only Jesus provides a powerful message which is worth sharing with others. To share Jesus is to put ourselves into the background and to bring forward a message that matters.
  3. We would be re-energized in our missions and compassion ministry. I notice that many churches and pastors today are getting "compassion fatigue" which comes from trying to do it all on our own. To put Jesus in the center allows us to be empowered by his Spirit and strength, rather than running out of energy by using only our own strength.
  4. We would clarify our worship. Worship is not about us, and when we make it about us we lose power. Too much worship today is about performance and preference. Placing Jesus at the center reminds us of our reason to worship, to confess, to praise, and to go forth to serve.
  5. We would streamline our practices and polity. Rather than having lots of meetings like any other organization, we would keep loving, learning, deciding, and doing those things that really matter. How do we know what really matters? We focus upon the things that mattered to Jesus.

Perhaps putting Jesus at the center sounds too simplistic. In reality it is a life-long pursuit and a growing-in-grace process. I find myself humming that song "Jesus at the Center" as a personal prayer: "Lord, help me to put Jesus at the center of my life, Jesus at the center of our church, and Jesus at the center of it all."

Please join me in that prayer and that quest.