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
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!
Recently some friends of friends of Facebook friends were lamenting the possibility of Rock Spring closing and selling to a developer. If you were one of those people, please be aware there is a lot of inaccurate information about the sale on that thread. RSPC does have a contract to sell property behind the church and we did approve a new proposal that will create 9 single-family homes, which the buyer will likely present as part of a rezoning application. The property where the manse sits has already been sold and closed and the house is occupied by tenants not affiliated with the church.
Back to the Facebook commentary, one person said they attended our worship and paraphrasing her, she posted, “they need people.” Another person suggested the church start a GoFundMe campaign. Another cited our denominational affiliation as the problem.
Sorrows about an historical property selling out and a few solutions offered—all by interested but not currently affiliated friends and neighbors. Three ideas proposed for the church: people, money, change of identity.
Let’s start with the identity question. We are a church of Jesus Christ. This is our primary loyalty. As a progressive church situated between two less progressive religious institutions, we offer our community another face of God. As a welcoming church we are open to doubters and people with questions. It is our hope that intellectual engagement with great questions of faith will lead to personal exploration that is spiritually enriching. We do put devotion before dogma and righteousness before rightness.
If you want to think about meaning and purpose and if you want a community building relationships across the divides society imposes, if you want a place where hope for the future is believed, RSPC may be for you.
And we are also Presbyterian, PCUSA, without apology. There’s room for you, if not with us, with another PCUSA congregation in Atlanta where there are more than 30,000 of us worshipping in many different styles and representing different understandings of God’s word to us. Let us help you find your place.
Which leads to the question about membership. Yes, we are small and we need more friends. If you do, too, you are welcome, no matter who you are, who you love or who you think God is. Because we are all made in God’s image, we need everyone together to get a sense of who our Creator is in full.
Membership at RSPC is less important than participants. We’re less interested in whether you join us and more interested in joining you on this journey of life.
So what do you need? We’re really good at organizing events—do you have a philanthropy near and dear to your heart—let us help you go bigger. Do you want to know more about the God of the Bible but are done with hatred and judgment—come meet the God of reconciliation who wants people to get along even if they have different opinions. Do you want to offer a few hours here and there changing the world one person at a time? Volunteer for our sandwich ministry or one of the advocacy training groups we support.
Money—who doesn’t need money? We do not have a GoFundMe page because we have a GoFundMe moment every Sunday. We believe the administration of the church is the responsibility of the members of the church. BUT, anyone who wants to invest in the mission of RSPC is welcome to send us a contribution. You can even designate your gift. So, yea, Go Fund Us at the address and office hours below.
Back to the thread prompting this post:
Yes, the church sold some property;
Yes, we’d love more people to be part of the ongoing history of this people of faith—you are all welcome;
Yes, we’d be grateful for your investment in creating a better world through our ministry with your time, talents, or tithes (money);
Yes, we’d love to get to know you!
No, we can’t do it alone, so if you think our history has a future that you can be part of,
What are you waiting for? Say yes.
Sundays: Book Study – 10:00 a.m. We Make the Road By Walking, by Brian McLaren
Sanctuary Worship – 11:00 a.m.
Thursdays: Gospel at The Rock –G@TR-- a praise and conversation time with our Bluegrass band, in the Loudermilk building
For our full calendar go to www.rspc.org or www.facebook.com/RockSpringPresChurch/
Our address: 1824 Piedmont Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30324
If you have any questions about our ministry, please call me. I’m the pastor and I look forward to meeting you.
Rev. Beverly Friedlander as our contract call pastor. Rev. Bev has served a number of churches as an Interim Ministry Specialist and has served in grief ministry for hospice. The good news is the ever-present God, who meets us in joy and sorrow to be our peace.