Our faith communities are embracing huge paradigm shifts today — or they are dying. One of the most basic shifts is being the church versus going to church. And there is one singular alteration that surpasses all others.
Never again do I want to hear that “our church is opening a preschool/offering a computer class/calling a young pastor in hopes of attracting new people who will join our church.” That’s not ministry. That’s a transaction. (The church gives A and in return the church receives B.)
My denominational leaders are meeting in St. Louis today for a week of business and reunions at the 223rd General Assembly. We Presbyterians have been doing this for over 200 years: meeting, worshiping, arguing, praying, making decisions. We’ve split and reunited and split again. We grapple with what God is calling us to be and do right now for such a time as this. And sometimes we make mistakes. And when we do the right thing, it’s by God’s grace.
But here’s the thing: true ministry is not transactional. We don’t follow Jesus to get into heaven. (What kind of devotion to God is that if we are only doing it to get something out of it ourselves?) We are not called to minister only to “our own.” Jesus was not crucified for being cuddly. [Note: when our current day political leaders declare that obeying government laws is Biblical, they are overlooking that Jesus was executed for sedition. He broke Roman law – the law of the land. Following the law is complicated in Holy Scripture. Note Shiprah and Puah.]
We are called to reach out to the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless, and the broken even when – especially when – we will never personally benefit from that ministry. We serve because we love in the name of Jesus, not because there is a heavenly or ecclesiastical benefit to us.
And so I leave today for St. Louis and look forward to the wrestling, the debating, the preaching, the singing, and the connecting with old and new friends. I also look forward to noticing what the Spirit of God will do. One of my hopes is that all of us who gather will embrace the changes around us that point us to being a more faithful Church.
Image of The Blessed Virgin Mary but I’m fairly certain that she didn’t look anything like this.