Growing the Church
August 2, 2009 - Ephesians 4:1-16
Mike and I and Bob got our one on one appointments with the DS this week. Included in the information wanted from us is a statistical score sheet which purports to evaluate how we are doing as pastors growing the church. There is lot of talk about growing the church these days because frankly the church is, at least in terms of numbers, in decline and unfortunately the more the losses mount the more it can become about institutional survival than spiritual revival. Making disciples has come to mean accumulating members or perhaps even more to the point increasing our customers. We pastors have been told that we must be transformational leaders and the small print says that means transforming the losses to profits and turning the business around. We are told at the same time that this means making disciples but if we really were about making disciples my guess is that our numbers would go down not up.
Disciples, after all, are asked to give up their lives for Christ and the broken world. If anyone would come after me let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mk 8) Most customers want a better bargain than that. Consumers don't come to give themselves away they come to get something. Imagine how hard it would be for any business to increase its customer base by making their customers lives more difficult, by, instead of promising how our product will enable the customer to have what they want, insisting instead that the customer must make sacrifices, that its not about what they want or what we want but what God wants of us. Are we not sitting around in evangelism meetings thinking about what do we have to offer people so they will want to join us when in fact we should be thinking about what people (including those of us who are already here) have to offer to Christ in thanksgiving for the gift of grace and for what that gift might bring to the world?
It may sound like a small thing at first but how we see our task, how we see things, changes everything. Who can forget the difference in world views of Pooh and Piglet that day they were trudging through the forest in a fierce wind storm? Piglet is the first to speak: Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it? Pooh's response is the classic antidote for Piglets thinking. After some careful thought Pooh says, Supposing it didn't. And so they went merrily on their way (Piglet feeling much better) to visit Owl who lived in a large tree as a matter of fact that while they were in it came crashing down in the wind. This time because he is a small animal it is Piglet who saves the day and his friends never mind that he was the most frightened and may have been seriously questioning Pooh's faith in trees not falling down when they were in them.
The book here says that each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. Now if you don't see yourself on that short list keep listening the gifts he gave were to equip the saints (i.e.: all of us who would be the church) for the work of ministry, the up-building of the body of Christ (i.e.: the church in the world) until we all come to maturity to the full stature of Christ.
This is about growing the church also but it seems to me that it is not how many of us there are but how much any of us are willing to bring to healing the world; not how many commitments their are but how deep are the commitments. I am not making this up. Christ came to heal the world. (Oddly excluded from the Revised Standard and New Revised standard translations but included in the King James and Children's Bible translation is this word in Jesus own announcement of what he was planning to do it says God has sent me to heal the brokenhearted.) (Lk.4.18) He gave himself away doing so. It turns out to heal broken hearts may require one's own heart be broken. The Church as Christ in the world exists to heal the world, to reconcile the broken pieces of our sorry history as humankind and to give itself away doing so? And furthermore, to do it knowing full well that we will not succeed, that our hearts will be broken, too. I have to say that as a business model we are doomed. Bank of America is not going to give us a loan for such an enterprise. We are asked to do something that we cannot do and cannot not do.
Ben Birmbaum writing in Image declares: Unlike some faith systems - socialism, Las Vegas, and Andrew Weil, M.D., come to mind - religious faith (at least the faiths I know something about, which are Judaism and Christianity) expects of us that we will continue to fashion, bind, and build with (not despite) the certain knowledge tha the work will not be completed, cannot be completed - not here and not by the likes of you and me. He went on to quote a rabbi from the second century Rav Tarfon: While you are not required to complete the work, neither are you free to desist from doing it. In summary, Birnbaum says we are blessed to be in a world in which we are free to work continually on becoming free. And we are asked to persuade others to join us not with trickery (vs.14) but by speaking the truth in love.
So what is the truth and what is the truth about us and what does love have to do with it?
"Hello Eeyore," said Christopher Robin. "How are you?"
"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"Yes," said Eeyore, "however," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."
The trees are falling down all around us but there hasn't been an earthquake for a while now. Love is not the result of good marketing nor does it require large numbers to exist. The truth is that it is not about how many of us are here but how much love we are willing to spend for others whether or not we ever see what love can do. What has love got to do with it?
It is written: I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another in love . . . bearing with one another in love. Bearing all things with a grateful heart or with the grace that gifts us with life if only we could look past what we don't have and could see what we do have.
I don't think I am exaggerating too much when I tell you that one of the questions in the evaluation process of the Pastor is how much does your pastor love Jesus and I am not sure just how the numbers will answer that question but the larger question is how much does the Church love Christ and how we are going to measure that one I'm not sure either but it might be reflected in how we treat each other, in our point of view about the nature and work of the Church, in the good we actually do for the world around us that couldn't care less about us and in why we do it. We come together to worship, to give something of ourselves to do all the good we can because we love God. Perhaps the only way we can measure that is by each broken heart that is healed and by each heart that is broken in the healing.
Today we break the bread and pour the cup but it is not bread and grape that we share, it is the broken heart of God, broken for love (only love can break your heart) broken to heal us and the world, to set us free to serve, to give us life to give away. It is here that we find our reason for being together, for growing the Church which is more about the increase of love than of anything else. Anyway that's what I think.
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