Probably Not a Coincidence
The last two Sundays have been great days for us as a church—a chance to reflect on and celebrate our past two Sundays ago and then remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection last Sunday.
I think we’ve been blessed to have those two weeks back-to-back.
The two weeks got me to thinking about our life as an outpost of the kingdom (probably a good thing) and I thought I might share some of those thoughts with you (probably a dangerous thing). Anyway, here are some lessons I’ve garnered from the last two Sundays, taken together…
1. Being missional is in our DNA.
Did you notice how many other churches our predecessors in Irvington planted?
I may be reading it all wrong, but it appeared that when they reached the bursting point at the Layman Avenue building, the impulse was to start up a new church, sending out members to do something new someplace else.
The move to this location on Southeastern Avenue was motivated at least in part by the desire to use the grounds for children’s homes. You could argue that also was a missional move.
That’s a great legacy.
2. Our story as a church is bigger than any of our individual stories.
Maybe it was just the way we told the story, or maybe it’s just that reality was being reflected. Whatever the case, did you notice as we reviewed our history that there did not seem to have been a time when this church was “preacher so-and-so’s church” or “elder so-and-so’s church”? Clearly there have been strong and influential personalities over the years, but the story of this church is bigger than any human personality. And that is as it should be. A church is not about self-promotion, but about God-promotion.
That, too, is a great legacy.
3. That said, there were some things that, as I reflected, raised flags of concern for me.
Clearly, our “growth trend” has been downward for a number of years. There are reasons behind that which are beyond our control (people moving to a new job somewhere else, for instance). But there are reasons behind that downward trend that maybe we can do something about (and we’ll be talking about some of those in coming weeks in some sermons).
We seem to be caught up with much of our culture in what one person has called the “tyranny of convenience.” I hear a lot of times that this or that activity or opportunity or spiritual discipline is “just not convenient.” I’m sure I’ve used that line myself. And we use it like it’s a trump card—nothing beats it. “It’s just not convenient – it doesn’t fit my schedule.” End of discussion. “It’s just not convenient – it might cost me (or us) time/money/effort.” End of discussion.
But life—especially a life that is spiritually growing—is not always about convenience.
Relationships in which we display love for neighbor may not always be convenient. Representing God and his purposes in a broken world will not always be convenient.
And almost in contrast to such relationships and representation, we are tempted to want the church to do things for us – “ministries,” we’ll call them – that make my life convenient.
That stands in such contrast to the concept of “witness” we talked about in last week’s sermon. To witness is to stake one’s life on the truth found in Christ. To witness will always require vulnerability and risk. It requires of us a commitment that goes beyond the “convenient.”
I had to wonder—have we lost our focus? Have we become distracted from the point of our existence? Do we see ourselves as a company of the committed (to borrow Elton Trueblood’s phrase) or as consumers of convenience? Do we exist to embody the mission of God or do we exist for the sake of existing?
4. And that takes us back to last Sunday: Let’s say we have lost our focus as a church, just for the sake of argument. Let’s say we are a little too focused on ourselves and a little too concerned about meeting our own needs and “having it our way.” Just for the sake of argument. Last Sunday, we were reminded that God is in the business of resurrection and renewal.
What that means is that with God’s help, our future is full of hope. God can raise a dead body to life. And we’re not dead, by a long shot. God can take dry bones and make them live. And I don’t think we’re dry bones. And we’ve got mission in the DNA of those bones.
It’s most assuredly not a matter of “let’s just go back to doing things like they did them in 1964 (or whatever “golden era” you wish to choose).”
Times have changed. Life is lived differently. We are now definitely in an era in which connecting people to the good news of Christ is challenging in ways that could not be imagined just a few years ago. And yet the opportunities may never have been greater. Just as genuine trust in Christ made headway as it was lived out and talked about in the pluralistic world of the church at first, so genuine trust in Christ can make headway as we live it out and talk about it in our pluralistic world.
But here’s the question:
Are we willing to lay everything we are and do on the table and ask God to blow his Spirit over us to show us what we need to be doing and how we need to be doing it to bring him glory? Are we willing to evaluate everything we are and do as a church by whether it serves the mission of God in this world? Are we willing to say to God –and listen for an answer – “God, we’re proud of all this church has done and is doing to serve your purposes in the past, but please show us how you want us to serve your mission as we move into the future”?
Are we willing to pray a dangerous prayer for God’s resurrection power to renew this church for his mission in every passing generation?
What might happen if that became our prayer for the next year? For the rest of our lives?
I really don’t believe it is a coincidence that those two special Sundays came back-to-back. Their proximity to each other may contain a message from God. Are we listening? Are we willing to listen? For the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of the world, let us listen.