A year ago I wrote a piece that quickly became the most commented piece here and at Day1.org. It elicited colorful comments from frustration, to anger, to personal evaluation on my work as a pastor. I even received a letter and a few e-mails from pastors saddened that I had written such a piece and that a few other outlets had published it.
I thought it would be appropriate to write a reflection a year later. Some things have changed, others have not, in the end I still believe what I said. The purpose of the church is not “growth” but the sending out of transformed people to be about God’s mission in the world.
I believe that if we are faithful to our tasks as a church: to worship, to proclamation and teaching, to caring for one another in love, to connect with other institutions in the community on behalf of the poor and needy, we will be successful at our work as God’s people. (Thanks Taylor Burton Edwards for these conversations)
This can only happen if we are intentional as we form people in the way of Jesus. Our baptismal covenant takes doing, not just reciting. Doing takes time, example, and practice. If we do not provide opportunities for people to be about God’s work in the world then how can we expect the church to “grow?”
I also question what growth might mean for the church. More people does not mean more disciples, nor does more people mean more mission being done. Growth needs to mean more than people in the pews, how about growth in transformation, growth in service, growth in love?
Here are some of my learning’s of the past year . . .
- The power of story – I am still awed at how sharing our story with one another can be a sacred moment. I am constantly touched by times when the biblical story connects with a person’s story. These “eureka” moments are gifts of grace.
- The power of relationships – time and time again people come to the church not because of an exciting program or because they received something in the mail but because someone meaningful to them invited them to become part of the community of faith. Relationships matter and a disciple of Jesus will naturally become evangelist.
- The power of accountability – I’ve been blessed to share my faith journey with a few close confidants. One of them is my spiritual director and a few others are close friends and colleagues. These people in my life ask me the hard questions about my discipleship. They call me to accountability for the covenants that I have made in baptism, in marriage, and in ordination. They also remind me of the importance of the faith community. I grow in my relationship to God because these people are part of my life.
- The power of discipleship – following is difficult work. Most of the time I want to lead, I’m sure that I am not alone in this. If discipleship to Jesus becomes our reason for being church (seeking first the kingdom) then we will grow, we will multiply, we will transform the world. I wonder if we are tapping into the Spirit’s power called down upon us at our baptism?
I’m still a sojourner, in life, in faith, in thinking . . . I don’t have it figured out but I’m constantly asking, constantly in conversation, constantly listening for God’s voice as I continue to seek ways to help people hear the Good News of Jesus.
All this to say that a year later, can we be about our work of discipleship, the work of being agents of God’s kingdom in the world, and let the Spirit worry about the growth?