A friend of mine was a medical missionary in Malawi in the 1990s. Although she was a trained cardiologist, most of her days were spent delivering babies and treating people with AIDS. She wrote in a letter that during an emergency procedure, when the medical team was trying to save a man’s life, someone said, “Hey, M. – you’re the Christian, right? This would be a good time to pray.”
“Oh right” she said. “Praying. I’m supposed to call on God in times like these.”
This resonates with me as I spend time with People of Faith who say things like:
- We are thinking about closing our church but we don’t know what to do next.
- We are wondering what to do about our preschool expansion.
- We are thinking about restructuring our church staff and there’s a lot of conflict.
It doesn’t occur to them to pray. It doesn’t occur to them to study scripture and talk and pray together in faithful discernment.
This is why many congregations struggle right now: we have forgotten that we are not a social club nor are we an institution that is dependent upon sentimentality or cultural control. We have a Savior.
We have access to divine direction. We are blessed with a God who is interested in shepherding us into something holy and purposeful.
I hate to say this but many, many Church People would not think about turning to God for help and direction even in times of trial.
I have shared the story before about former parishioners who arrived late to worship every Sunday. Almost every Sunday, they stumbled into the sanctuary just after the Prayer of Confession with their two little girls. At that time, I also had young children and I got it: it’s really hard to rally the troops on Sunday mornings.
I was lightheartedly talking with the parents one Sunday and I shared that I’m in solidarity with about how hard it is to get to worship on time on sleepy Sunday mornings. To my surprise, the Dad of the family said, “Oh, we come to worship late intentionally. We come after the Prayer of Confession because we don’t want our kids believing they have anything to confess.” And while my Presbyterian mouth was still agape, the Mom said, “And we don’t like that Jesus Loves Me song. I don’t want my girls to grow up singing that they are weak and He is strong.”
So, my first question then is “Why do you need a Savior?” If you have nothing to confess, nothing to repent of, if you are so strong, why do you need Jesus?
If our congregations are so secular that we are simply going through the motions of having spiritual lives, then no wonder the Church is struggling. To be honest, I know many faithful churches who indeed seek first the Kingdom of God. They are thriving.
But when prayer is so foreign, when faithful discernment is an afterthought, our congregations cannot possibly thrive. We are the Church because we need a Savior.
Image of The Prodigal Son by Heinz Warneke in the gardens of The National Cathedral in Washington, D. C.
A poignant and honest commentary Jan. Thank you.
I regularly see a sign in front of aELCA church that says “Need a savior? We have one.” Your column woke to the fact most of us only give lip service to such comments. Thanks for speaking bluntly. May God help us all!