As pastor of a "vintage" Prebyterian Church (USA) in the city of Atlanta I’ve been challenged to (re)think about creating programs that will grow the church. This is not a new concept. Need-based ministry became, years ago, the go-to strategy for church growth. This is a direct adaptation of a simple sales strategy that identifies the product, the need it fills for a known consumer, and directs the sale to them. We called these churches “seeker sensitive.” And thus we eventually neglected the core of our faith.
God is the seeker. God is the one who seeks the lost. We are a people who have long-forgotten that we need God (total depravity in Presbyterian lingo). We do not seek God.
Neither is God a product we can shop around in different packages until we find the one that fits the consumers we want in our buildings and circles of friends.
The lost less often want something like a program and more often want someone -- like you. Yes, you, disciple and child of God.
God is love. God is slow to anger, abounding in mercy, and steadfastly loving. God is holy. The only way to package that is to be a holy, slow to anger, abounding in mer-cy, and steadfastly loving person. This is the work of Holy Spirit within each one of us. God is recreating us in the image of the divine through Christ. That’s the meaning of being clothed in Christ. Or that it is Christ who lives in me.
Evangelism is not about creating the right program to meet the right need.
It is being good news to people who forgot they needed it.
It is being more than doing.
The church is not meant to sell God. We are meant to praise God. The God who said, “I am with you,” sends us out to be with others. When our programmatic efforts be-come opportunities of with-ness, we will be witness to God.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus, to his disciples, John 15: 12
Above my computer that I use as Pastor at Rock Spring Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, I have a card that states, “Seven Steps to God.” If only, right? However, I wouldn’t have kept the card if I hadn’t found the path it describes to fulfill its promise of helping me know the nearness of Christ in my daily life.
Herb Miller wrote the plan in 1996, but the path is ancient. It is so clearly marked that it arrives over and over again in every generation with a new name. In our lifetimes it has been “meditation,” and more recently, “mindfulness.” Self-help books and websites recite essentially the same steps. Most of these more secular cousins describe their guidance as leading to inner peace, or a higher power, or a higher consciousness.
The apostle Paul, speaking to the Athenians, said, “I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23) This is the task of the church: to tell the people worshipping at altars of “unknown” gods, that it is the Creator, the Prince of Peace, whom they are seeking in their meditations and spiritual yearnings for peace.
As Paul declares elsewhere, “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Romans 10: 14)
Before we can proclaim, we must know ourselves. Here’s the 15 minute pathway Herb Miller outlines:
1. Gratitude: Every day—acknowledge 3 blessings.
2. Intercession: Every day—ask God to help 3 people.
3. Repentance: Every day—ask for forgiveness –specific mistakes/sins over the course of the day and to help you forgive others.
4. Intercession: Every day—ask for help for someone you don’t really like.
5. Supplication: Every day—ask for insights into you own problems.
6. Guidance: Every day—ask for help achieving goals.
7. Silence: Every day at the end of the above—3 minutes of silent listening.
May you find Christ by your side, every day, every hour.
Much has been said about Sen. John McCain having reached across the aisle, about how he and Sen. Kennedy were friends, about his interrupting a supporter to stop a false narrative about his opponent, then future President Barack Obama. Almost without exception these narratives have been celebrated as a universal common good we should all strive towards.
Democrats and Republicans alike have affirmed this conviction. Yes, they actually agreed on something. And surprisingly, it was that our differences should not divide us.
Soon the reverie around the Senator will fade and his grave will settle, and that goal will recede thus leaving little more than a footnote to the narrative of McCain’s death and life. Once again we shall return to the habits of division we have been manipulated into upholding, even promulgating.
Christian—you have another option! You can make a different choice. You have the freedom in Christ to freely associate with those you would name, “sinner,” “outcast,” “undesirable,” “deplorable,” “illegal,” “alien,” “evil,” “different,” “not like us.”
Christian—Christ has set you free to accept yourselves and to love God and neighbor, and be bound together with all believers in the church. (Brief Statement of Faith)
This particular invitation is specifically directed to the members of the Church. What better place to demonstrate the unity of God and the reconciliation of all creation? Where else is God going to do this work if not in Christ’s own body, the church? Who else to proclaim the gospel of reconciliation if not the followers of the Risen Christ who is our reconciliation? If we in the body of Christ cannot hear and be the word that proclaims, “there is no longer [many] for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then God’s word of full reconciliation will be fulfilled without us leading the Way.
Christ offers an invitation, a place to practice our unity. Christ invites us to supper. We don’t come to the Lord’s Supper because we have everything in common or because we all believe exactly the same things or because we have the same theology. We come because we have ONE thing in common: we are invited by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
On Sunday, come, all you who are weary, and let Christ give you rest. And don’t worry about who else is invited, just rejoice that your name is on the list! Christian, maybe, the world would take notice of our reaching across the table—if we actually did so.
Peace, Rev Bev