Ten years ago I gathered with a group of 50 young pastors and heard Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, the largest United Methodist Church in the US, share three questions that he uses to help his congregation find their center. Help them remember why they exist. He encouraged us to share these questions with our congregations:
- Why do people need Jesus Christ?
- Why do people need the church?
- Why do people need this particular church?
Ever since I’ve asked this questions of all the congregations that I’ve served. The questions have always been a source for lively conversation. Many had never thought about it in this way before. I had not thought about it in this way before, so I thought this would be a good time for us to consider these questions as we enter into 2018.
Why do people need Jesus Christ?
People need Jesus Christ, because we have a desperate need to be made whole, healed, connected, reminded that we are beloved, God’s image living in us!
Our tendency to sin and death is a tendency that separates us from our true self, from others, and from God. A tendency that alienates us, separates us and sends us to the margins. It is a tendency that makes us alienate others, become separate from the other, and push others to the margins. No wonder Jesus came, God-self, in the flesh, and began visiting the margins. To show us what love looked like, what salvation looked like, that is is possible to be restored.
This is why I am so passionate about my call as a proclaimer of this message because I know how desperately we all need Jesus.
Why do people need the church?
This is a more complex question. It is a question that I have asked myself often, as you know I am one of those that has a love-hate relationship with the church.
As I told you earlier we have a core tendency to sin and death, to alienate, it convinces us that we do not belong, and separates us from our true humanity, and tries to make us believe that we are God. Our primal story, one of the great fables in human history, begins with two people that are deceived by a serpent. They fall into the belief that God does not care and if only they would satisfy their prideful, self-centered, and individualistic longings and impulses, they could be like God. In fact their becoming like God is exactly what God is trying to avoid. God is not to be trusted!
This is our story! Time and time we choose other gods, choosing our own selves as god, choosing fruit that looks good to the eye but lethal to our souls.
People need the church because our salvation calls us back to our nature as a people of community. Just like God is community in Father-Son-Spirit so are we, God’s communal image living in us. Our baptism initiatives us into this new (renewed) life, grafts us and binds us to the visible presence of Christ in the world – the church, the body of believers, to community of those who are growing in God’s love. This body’s sole purpose is to be a light for what community looks like to a growingly isolated, separated, and divided world. We exist as ancient writers have said: “for the life of the world.”
Who Are We and Why Are We Here?
Why do people need this particular church? This is a great question, especially as a people who live in Shreveport, Louisiana. I’ve read that Shreveport once had the most churches per capita in the United States. I believe it, all you have to do is drive up and down Ellerbe Rd and Line Ave and count the many congregations along the way.
Why this particular church? If we disappeared today if Grace Community was not here would Shreveport/Bossier be less just, compassionate, kind, loving? What effect are we having? Would we be missed if we were not here?
Grace Community is a gifted and unique congregation, a pivotal mission field not just for the Shreveport/Bossier area but for the entire State (and maybe even the region).
We are a congregation that from the beginning has been committed to reaching the unchurched and de-churched, narrative leadership, cutting-edge communication, spiritual formation, and incarnational ministry to ALL people.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, of the Louisiana Area, in a sermon to our congregation in the Spring of 2014 described Grace Community as creative, push es the envelope, courageous, risks taking, mission minded, and exciting. (you can see her sermon here.)
We are here for others to experience life, abundant life, heaven on earth, eternal life beginning today. Notice that we are not here for the afterlife, heaven, hell, the whole after you die thing. Not here for fear!
And yet we are still afraid, we still wonder . . .
We like the teacher of the law, we like this faithful, obedient, put together, intelligent people want to make sure that we have the right belief, the right intellectual assent.
The encounter between Jesus and the teacher of the law comes in the midst of the joy of living life, of being a kingdom people, this encounter comes in the midst of excitement, of Jesus thanking God for the way that is being revealed to the disciples around him. Did you notice?
Part II coming tomorrow . . .