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
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
What’s a pastor to do?
One of the challenges I have encountered as a pastor of Rock Spring Presbyterian Church, in Atlanta GA, is being prophetic while also being pastoral. I do not always succeed on either count! And people have pointed it out when they miss one or the other.
The challenge is, being prophetic always includes a critique of our socio-political-economic environment; and no matter which party is in office, that kind of preaching sounds partisan in our day and age. I am aware of my own personal biases. That said I am very intentional with preaching or teaching, as best as any preacher can, to hear and share the bias of scripture and how it speaks to us in our current life. At times, I want to reject God’s word because it forces me to choose between how I’m doing things and how God calls me to do things. In the church we call this turning “repentance.” Other times I find my understanding validated and feel like I’m on the way with Christ.
I suspect if I feel this way, you may too. However, when a preacher goes to preaching, we are often told we’ve, “gone to meddlin’.” And so the second challenge is being attentive and caring to people who feel slighted by a particular point of view when it comes from the pulpit or church class.
Our culture has not helped us talk across our differences. However, Scripture and our reformed theology do. There is hope for us! We can learn and teach others. We can witness to the power of loving kindness expressed in true friendship. Scripture calls us to bear each others’ burdens, outdo one another in showing honor, be ambassadors of God in reconciliation and much more. For examples, see Romans 12:10;14:1,10,19; I Corinthians 10; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:25-32.
These texts support the Presbyterian principles of “mutual forbearance.” Stemming from a belief that “truth is in order to goodness,” we believe “there are truths and forms with respect to which [people] of good character and principles may differ… the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.” (BOO F-3.0105)
I am committed to this principle as it helps me learn from people with differing points of view.
And, as you may already know, I believe that the strong voice of the evangelical Christian churches is heard loudly; so, I am committed to offering the counter balance, a progressive Christian understanding. I can only do this well in the context of effective conversation across the spectrum of socio-political ideas.
I look forward to sharing with you the power of true friendship!
Week 6 March 19-25