I grew up in the era of the program-focused Church. I was trained to look at the demographic, both in and outside of the church walls, so I could try to figure out what kind of stuff we needed to do to lure the sheep into the fold. I was told, as a young pastor, that weddings and baptisms brought people to the church, so I should do them with no questions. Someone might like my style or think the church was pretty and show up on Sunday morning (doesn’t work, by the way). We spent hours and hours prepping food for fund-raising (Christians give, they don’t raise funds) dinners that would lure people in with low prices and smiling faces. This, I was told, would show people just how great we were as a group (doesn’t work, by the way). Creating programs to “get” people in the door can often be a bait and switch; we tell them how nice we are, and then don’t always meet those expectations. And people aren’t followers of Jesus because we are nice; it is a life decision they make to be disciples.
Our worship and our programs and our outreach have often been developed and maintained by those who are already there. And we maintain these same processes because those who are there really like them. So, we sing the same hymns and do the same programs and resist the need to do new things because we don’t want to upset the paying (did I really just type that?) customers. And it isn’t that what we are doing is wrong; much of it is good. But what we did in 1850 or 1950 probably doesn’t meet the needs of those who will be alive in 2050. We focus so much on what people want that it is difficult to find time to figure out what they need. We cater to the needs of the few instead of trying to serve the many and, in the end, it kills us.
In every church I have served or attended, at least half (usually 2/3) of the members are not active, for a variety of reasons. They might send $100 in December to prove they are still there, but they do little to serve the mission and outreach of the community. And the rest of the members give and give and give; they love God and their church and each other so much that they often burn out from all the giving. They are like athletes who don’t take in enough to sustain their Herculean efforts; we all need spiritual sustenance to be good followers of Jesus. They are 99% Martha and 1% Mary, serving all the time with little left for themselves. There is a balance in being a person of faith, and most of us don’t find it very easily. To love others, we need to love ourselves, and that takes some work.
We can’t just “do”; we need to also “be”. We can’t just volunteer for projects; we need to pray and learn and grow in our faith. We can’t just swallow the message that all I need is me and Jesus; we need the community of faith. Where two or three are gathered is how Jesus put it; nobody can be a balanced, fruitful, healthy servant of God on their own. Nobody. This is why I spend time learning and taking retreat time; I can’t do my work with you if I am not being fed. Reading the Bible and praying every day is great, but if we aren’t connecting with others who are doing the same, we eventually fail. We should spend as much time teaching each other about community as we do teaching the stories of the Bible. Faith begins with learning, but it has to mature through doing and being and sharing our faith, our love, and our stuff. Otherwise, our spiritual lives will be out of balance, and we will burn out or grow disinterested. Come to the Table of the Lord and be fed. There’s more to being faithful than just saying we are.
Prayer – Holy God, You created us for each other because it isn’t right for us to be alone. Encourage us to seek community. Amen.
Today’s art is from the Community Murals Project of Philadelphia.