A frequent error message computers generate is: “Connection lost.” When wireless is working well, the world is at our fingertips. On the other hand, when connection to the internet is what my Brit friends call “dodgy,” frustration ensues.
What is true for IT is true for Christian churches. Connectivity counts; it always has. The Apostle Paul lived centuries before the internet, so he used the technology at his disposal. With ink, papyrus and messengers, the missionary from Tarsus kept scattered communities of faith connected, encouraging them, teaching them, mobilizing those who had more to share with those who had less. For the maintenance and advance of God’s Kingdom on earth, connection counts.
The Church of the Nazarene is a recent example of a far-flung community that has historically thrived through connection. During a question and answer session at the March 2015 Africa Regional Conference held in Johannesburg, South Africa, General Superintendent Eugenio Duarte wondered outloud whether – besides being Christian, holiness, and missional – “connection” shouldn’t be added as our fourth core value.
As I type these words, my wife and I are enjoying the company of our older son. He’s been here in Cheonan, South Korea teaching English through a program sponsored by Korea Nazarene University (KNU). It’s a wonderful example of the blessing of Nazarene connection since many of the teachers are graduates of other Nazarene universities. KNU is able to provide a service to its community while offering a chance for Nazarene-connected youth to gain exposure to the broader world. Connectivity still counts.
Yet in churches, connection is no accident. It’s intentional; it takes a lot of hard work to maintain. Local churches that are large and have means could go it alone and provide most of the programs their children and youth could ever need. But as a pastor of a small church in central Missouri, I was glad when the Kansas City District banded together to rent a camp. Our children and teens made friendships with others on the district that they never would have met otherwise. Most importantly, they made decisions for Christ that were life-changing. They grew in their spiritual and world outlook and our intentional commitment to connection was the reason.
If I’m a cheerleader for Nazarene connection, I have personal reasons. It was at a district junior quizzing meet held at the Schenectady church on the Upstate New York District where I first met the girl (Amy Bean) who years later said “yes” to my marriage proposal. At the quiz meet, my father was the photographer , and he had trouble getting us to stand close together for the photo. (Those of my generation will remember “coodies.”). Later at Eastern Nazarene College when Amy and I began dating, my dad joked that now he couldn’t keep us apart!
Recently, there’s been a discussion around the question of what divides Nazarenes and whether those divisions will lead us to split. In response, I wrote an essay warning about the dangers of schism. Judging by the number of views – it made my top 5 -as well as “likes” and positive comments on social media, the essay struck a chord with many. Others saw it as a “shushing” of those who who want to have conversations, a call to stick our head in the sand. One way to see an increase in conversation on a topic is to recommend not discussing it for reasons of unity! That seems to be what happened in this case.
I’ve no stomach to wade into discussions on the specific matters that are so divisive. The purpose of this post is merely to remind us all what is at-stake. Connection is a pearl of great value for which I might not be willing to sell everything I have, but I’d be willing to sell a lot (Matthew 13:45-46). And as an American, I realize that we Americans culturally have placed far less value on the interdependence that makes us strong, preferring to elevate the independence that we think makes us happy. Nearly 20 years of living in non-American settings has helped me realize our American blindspot. When talk of a split in the Church of the Nazarene originates in the U.S., it’s worth asking whether it’s the Lord that’s provoking the conversaton or whether the cultural blindspot is in-play.
Christian, holiness, missional – They’re our three core values. Perhaps it’s time to consider adding as our fourth value connection. Let’s not trade away this valuable pearl for a song.