#006: Freedom Roots and Community Based Ministry with Dustin Wilson

 

Pastor Dustin Wilson

Pastor Dustin Wilson

Dustin Wilson is a graduate of Southern Wesleyan University and founder of Freedom Roots. Freedom Roots is a Community Based Ministry with the mission to plant hope in community. Since 2011, Dustin and his family have shared life together in the historically black community of East Spencer, North Carolina, learning to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.  He is the coordinator of the Community Based ministry Movement of The Wesleyan Church under the Spiritual Formation Department. Dustin is involved in the community as the Marketing Director at Chick-fil-A in Salisbury, chair of the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Rowan Steering Committee, Campus Pastor of the Youth Commission International Club at North Rowan Middle School, and on the board of the Micah Movement.  He can often be found farming on his 1.3 acre lot in East Spencer.

Dustin and his wife, Hannah, are Ordained Ministers in the Wesleyan Church, and they have 3 beautiful daughters and 1 handsome son.

The “Truth” Sets Us Free: Formation through the Lens of Language

 

Surveys in the United States confirm that truthfulness is still one of our most highly valued traits. As the new millennium began, for the second time in half a century those polled by Gallup put ethics and morality near the top of the list of problems facing Americans. If these statistics are even close to being accurate, how is it that we do not hear or read more on the topic of truth telling?

It is without doubt that deception is a powerful force. Upon truthfulness much is built, but without it so much can fall. As we have all experienced at some point in our lives, deception can spread and give rise to practices very damaging to human communities and when the practice of truth telling is neglected, we become accustomed to spin and dishonesty, which seem to be all around us. As a result, it is not uncommon to suspect that people are never being completely honest. This suspicion has tainted the work of church pastors and leaders, who are often on the receiving end of a lack of trust in leadership and in our various institutions. This culture of deception naturally brings about defensiveness and consequently, “truth has been displaced by believability”.

Ludwig Wittgenstein once observed, “He lied when truth would have done just as well. Choosing which to tell is largely a matter of convenience. We lie for all the usual reasons or for no apparent reason at all”. While it may be true that our actions might speak louder than our words, they are still very powerful. For instance, “the words associated with deception have declined, or have at the very least become the norm. Therefore, we no longer tell lies, but instead we claim it as ‘misspeaking”, ‘exaggerating’, or ‘exercising poor judgment’. In saying and believing such things, the term ‘deceive’ is replaced with the more accepting word of ‘spin’ or ‘contextualizing’”. In the end, we deceive ourselves.

So, why do we continue to deceive and lie rather than telling the truth?  Ralph Keyes, in a Post-Truth Era, states, “the obvious cause of dishonesty’s rise is ethical decline. From this perspective, moral compasses have broken down. Our sense of right and wrong has gone into remission. Conscience is considered old fashioned. Conviction has been replaced by cynicism”. This post-truth era allows us “to dissemble truth without considering ourselves dishonest. When our behavior conflicts with our values, what we’re most likely to do is re-conceive our values. Few of us want to think of ourselves as being unethical, so we devise alternative approaches to morality”.  A single word by itself is very powerful, and combined with other words is either constructive or destructive; it is “the power of life and death”. Therefore, as a result of this shaping of reality, words either convey truth or communicate a false reality (deformation of truth).

We have all experienced a time in which we have tried to communicate a story or moment in our life, and rather than stating the truth, we fabricate certain portions of the story, maybe making the outcome a little funnier, or not emphasizing a negative incident, all to control the response of the listener. We have heard fine speeches, eloquent sermons, and rhetoric that moves the soul. In truth-telling, what is decisive is not what you say, but how you say it. It is composition, it is expression, that decisiveness and deception is birthed. There is the possibility that something could well be superbly crafted—that it could be perfectly worded; brilliantly formulated; strikingly written, performed, staged, or put on screen—and at the same time, in its entire thrust and essence, be false; and not only false, but out right bad, inferior, contemptible, shameful, destructive, wretched—and still marvelously put together. But at the other end of the pendulum is the practice of truth-telling which negates the self, and embraces the true Word, Christ himself, trusting in the truth spoken.

So, whether at home, in meetings, in sermon, in speech, or in debate, may your language be “life giving”, forming others into the likeness of Christ…the Truth will set you free!

 

 

[Want to go deeper on this topic…resources used in this article: Ralph Keys: Post-Era Truth; Sissela Bok: Lying; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Ethics & Life Together; Jean Vanier: Community and Growth]

Moving Past the Strangeness of the Stranger

 

The practice of hospitality was a pillar of the early church, but in the last 200 years it has become a foreign concept. In being one of the main practices seen throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures, hospitality had a special place in the movement of God and His work. For example, in Genesis, the people of Israel are aliens in a foreign land and embodied the stranger/guest role, while God resembled the host.

In addition, we read how Abraham and Sarah welcomed in a stranger, offering them water and fine food. However, the stranger that they welcomed ended up being an angel sent by God (Genesis 18:1-10). In the New Testament, one of the most humbling examples of the practice of hospitality is when Jesus, as host, supplies breakfast for his guests (the disciples). In this act, along the shore after his resurrection, Jesus prepares fish (breakfast) over a fire (John 21).

For the first 400 years of Church history, believers of Christ tended to welcome those who knocked at their doors, for they thought it could be Jesus who was knocking. However, during the Medieval period, hospitality was increasingly used for selfish gain, rather than self-giving. It focused more on entertaining those with status; excluding rather than embracing. Therefore, while the church began losing its influence on this rich Christian Practice, governments and civil groups took more of lead in the area of hospitality.

Hospitality is about inclusion, a welcoming into one’s space, which moves past the ‘strangeness’ of the stranger. As a result, it breaks down the biological family, for it is a theology that sees things from a Kingdom perspective, rather than a local or privatized perspective.

 

The misconceptions of the practice of Hospitality

1. Consists of tea, appetizers and house warming parties…things my grandma would do.

2. Lay Leaders who are given leadership over greeting and welcoming folks at the front door of a church…passing out bulletins, shaking hands, saying ‘welcome’, and so forth.

3. Something that women do…it has a feminine slant. Men do not perceive hospitality as a practice or a means of grace, because men preach and evangelize. This is a big misnomer.

4. Scripture does not speak much about hospitality, nor the importance of it…therefore, it is not something that is really important to the Christian Faith.

 

So, what are the gestures of Hospitality?

1. Anticipating needs, being aware of those around you, being sensitive to their needs…often times they are small acts

2. Marks one’s entrance and departure (accompanying them on their arrival or exit)…even if it interrupts the conversation or event.

3. Offering people food, a shared meal

4. Makes sure that when you are welcoming someone they do not feel like an interruption.

5. Does not expect blessing…it is selfless, but Christ-like

6. The practice of discernment is important, for one cannot truly welcome everyone

7. One must cultivate an attitude of gratitude (see 1 Peter 4)…if not, hospitality cannot be sustained

 

What would the Church resemble if it seriously adopted the practice of Hospitality?

1. At its core, it would be diverse

2. There might be a level of ‘rich’ chaos in our congregations (translating different languages during the services, disruptions—such as testimonies, common prayer, etc.)

3. Homes and Churches would weave together hospitality…a holistic approach.

4. Congregations would centrally embrace the importance of social ministries and see their community through the lens of God’s Kingdom.

5. The Church’s theology of the practice of hospitality would be reflected in the architecture, design of the services, and the like.

6. A philosophy of hospitality, removes the ‘task’ mentality and the tendency to measure success by results, etc.

7. Hospitality would include family, friends, and those of the ‘least of these’—strangers, oppressed, outcasts of ‘your’ society (e.g. alienated teens, elderly, or the obvious-refugees, homeless, etc.).

8. Christian hospitality would not be mistaken for just a salutation or kind words…but bringing one ‘into’ our world…the Kingdom of God.

9. As Wesley taught, hospitality is a means of Grace. Thus, there is mystery in the practice of Hospitality (both publicly and privately)…which may be why it is so difficult, yet so rewarding

 

So, what do you think?

1. What comes to mind when you first hear of the word hospitality? Does it reflect the Christian tradition of this ancient practice?

2. How do you practice hospitality? How does your church practice hospitality?

3. It’s one thing to practice hospitality with people that we like or people that we want around. But how do we practice hospitality with people that are difficult to include?

4. The church growth movement has studied how much more successful it is for churches to reach out to people that are ‘like them’ (homogenous unit principle). Is this trend (and human tendency) Biblical?

5. Do you think the Christian practice of hospitality is easier or realized more fully in cultures that aren’t as individualized as western culture?

 

A Love that Transcends Time and Society

 

In light of the church and its mission, I have two convictions and hopes for His Church and her role as His people. First, the church must include and embrace others as Christ has embraced us (Luke 22). Second, the church must live in authentic Christian community where lives can healed, encouraged, empowered, and ultimately, transformed in the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 1:21-23).

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Romans is to “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7). This concept of welcome is what theologian Miroslav Volf identifies as embrace. It is “the will to give ourselves to others and welcome them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, and it is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.” So, no political party, no government, no race, nor can any culture do what Christ did in welcoming, or embracing humanity. To welcome, as Christ welcomed, transcends time and society. This embracing confronts injustice, deception and ultimately anything that attaches itself to exclusion.

The practice of including and embracing is also seen through the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, and the doctrine of salvation. For the cross and the covenant plays an extremely important part in revealing the truth of welcome. It is on the “cross God renews the covenant by making space for humanity in God’s self, that which humanity has broken. And unlike a contract, the covenant is not simply a relationship of mutual utility, but of moral commitment.” So, through this covenant, God reveals His moral character, which makes space for the other in the self. The ultimate display self-giving, in Luke 22:20, was reveled when the new covenant was made permanent in blood, and was made eternal on the cross. Interestingly enough, the new covenant “is God’s embrace of the humanity that keeps breaking the covenant. And as designed, the social side of that new covenant is our way of embracing one another under the conditions of hostility.”

May we as the Church, truly embrace others as Christ embraces us, creating space where communities and lives can be transformed!

 

Further Thoughts to Consider:

1. Do you find that “embracing” others to be difficult?

2. How might the practice of “embrace” look in your church?

3. When practiced, embrace will transform both the individual and the group. So, how might this practice influence our ministries and how we live missionally?

4. In what ways could you and your church missionally embrace your community?

 

Do We Really ‘Want’ Community?

community

Do we really want community?

It seems like every book you read or that you come across talks about longing for community.  Even Hollywood has jumped on this bandwagon (see NBC’s TV show “Community”). I have heard many folks, including pastors and church leaders even use communal lingo…“We long for community”, “how do we become a true community of believers”, and so forth.  Interestingly, many local churches are identified by the word community: “Community Baptist Church”, “Christ Community”, etc.

Now, it is without argument that many Christians long for relationships and a sense of belonging, however,