Come Alive!

Posted on: February 23, 2022, by :

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Howard Thurman quoted by Gil Balie, ‘In Gratitude’ 1994

The starting point for many church strategic planning exercises is to ask ‘what does the community need?’ and then, having discerned the need, we set about developing strategies to address it. In fact, I recall the mantra of one of the early church growth experts as being ‘find a need and fill it.’ If you can meet the needs of the community, the theory goes, then you will grow your church. I guess it does make sense, particularly alongside the servant theology that is often at the heart of church values.

But there’s an alternative starting point, and it is captured in that delightful quote from Howard Thurman[1], a quote that pretty well turns conventional ecclesiological wisdom on its head!

Instead of being grounded in servant theology, Thurman’s idea is grounded in the theology of grace and giftedness. It holds that the things that give us life, the things we enjoy doing, are inevitably the things we are gifted for, the things that stir our passion, the things that give us a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. It is sound theology to suggest that ‘what makes you come alive’ is an indicator of giftedness, of the innate abilities with which you have been graced. Whether you believe those graces are ‘gifts’ from the Creator Spirit or a twist of the genetic code, it remains true that the exercise of those ‘gifts’ feels good, makes you come alive. And it’s not too long a bow to draw to suggest that when we come alive the world around us also becomes more vibrant. What is life-giving for us is also life-giving for those around us.

Too often in the church the emphasis on servanthood and sacrifice mediates against the gospel invitation to come alive, as though true discipleship can’t possibly be enjoyable (it has to be hard), and Christian living can’t be fun (it has to be serious). And before we know it, we are caught up in a religious system that is life-denying rather than life-giving. Thank God for people like Howard Thurman who remind us that the core value of the gospel is about life – abundant life – and that pursuing our passions, engaging in the things that give us life, is not just sound theology, but a great way to give life to the people and the world around us.

What does this mean for the HeartWell Community as we launch into our strategic planning process? Well, maybe it means that instead of asking what the world needs and then trying to address that need even if it doesn’t have a lot of appeal to us, we could start by asking what are the things we are good at, what are the things that give us life, and interpret those passions as indicators of the Spirit’s prompting, considering how the pursuit of those things just might invite others to ‘come alive’, might be surprisingly life-giving for the world around us.

Consider what makes you come alive. When, in your day or your week do you feel the most life coursing through you? When in your life (even back to childhood!) have you had something that made you feel fully alive, fully yourself?  Hold whatever springs to mind and consider if there is an invitation in it. 

David Brooker

[1] Howard Washington Thurman (November 18, 1899 – April 10, 1981) was an American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. Thurman’s mentoring, and his theology of radical nonviolence, helped shape a generation of civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. Thurman served as dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University from 1953 to 1965, the first black dean at a majority-white university or college in the United States. Thurman wrote twenty books on theology, religion, and philosophy, perhaps the most famous of his works being Jesus and the Disinherited (1949).

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