Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No more growing Churches.

In a recent conversation about growing churches and ministries I realized something important: I am done trying to grow churches. I was a rather startled at this revelation because I entered into the ministry to just that. I wanted to plant and grow churches. What I realized as being important in the conversation i was having wasn't the latest in techniques to put bottoms in pew and money in the plate. It is not about business plans to co-ordinate activities nor teach what I would consider to be slop and foam, teaching only the nice and easy things from the pulpit while neglecting the harder things that in the end, can be life altering both for the individual and for the community. My job as a parish priest is not to be the friend professional visitor to get people to come and to pay though this is often thought of as my role by some in the Church. The mission of the Church is often thought of as filling the pews and filling the plates so that we can meet our budgets. And when we fail to do so, we think of congregations and the clergy involved as failures for not having done so. Thus, I am done with trying to “grow the Church”.

The Church by its very nature, is built to grow if it. It must continue to be what it always has been: a community who will participate in the apostolic teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of Bread and in the Prayers. The Church is a community who lives to provide mercy for those who need it while in the midst of seeking grace for themselves.  If you want to talk about building a community of mercy and of grace, which is something I want to do. I would join you in such a work.

I want to be a part of a Church that is not going to be fearful of proclaiming the risen Lord Jesus Christ. I want to be in a community who is not worried about being told “You’re nuts. I glad that you are happy and I wished I had what you seem to have because it makes you happy. But I cannot join you because you are nuts and I cannot be that.” I want to hear from the pulpit not the sermon I would like to hear for today but the sermon I will need to be ready for the Day of Christ Jesus. I want to be in a community where there is courage to speak the things of God to the people of God; for the clergy to break open the scriptures and feed the hungry and give drink to the thirst that they might truly live on more than bread and water.

The Church by its very nature is a community of discipleship. Listening, doing (obedient to the missio Dei) learning and teaching each other along the way, practicing the presence of Christ among us, so that we learn to serve to quell the desire to be served. We need to have hearts and minds that are taught by Christ on the road so that our hearts burn within us and we learn to recognize Christ wherever we are and in whatever we do. We all need to learn to be followers first and then servant leaders second. We cannot say that we are leaders until we have been seen and known as followers of him in the wider community. Or as the Rev. Canon Michael Green once observed, “The Church has been quicker to put on the robes of the ruler, than the towel of a servant.”

I want to be a part of a Church that is going to be more ready to love the unlovable, be compassionate to those who need mercy, and give stability to steady those who are in need of support in their daily life I want to be a part of a community working to be the people that God has called them to be recognizing that he who has begun a good work in and through us will bring it to completion on the Day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1.6). I want to be in a Christian community that will seek, see and serve the least, the last and the lost of each community where the Church lives its life. And I want to be a part of a Church that encourages all of its members to give all that they have been given and to use all the gifts and talents that have been bestowed upon them by God. I would love to be a part of a community that knows what it means to be not only a cheerful giver; I would what that church to be hilarious givers.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Grow the Church”? Most people when this phrase is used, want a strategy or a program and someone else to fulfill those goals and objectives. Many want want the church to be full on Sundays like they used to be so that we can keep up the appearances of the building, the structures both physical and human, and the finances in order to keep something of what used to be in the ceaseless cycles of change in every other part of human society. If this is want we really want, do we want to grow the Church?

Growing the Church is not about maintaining structures budgets or doctrine. True growth comes in building meaningful relationships that can endure based on a common unity with God and the divine mission. Therefore I invite you to come and follow your clergy, to follow them as they follow Christ. I invite you to come and reshape the life of the local Church that you might participate in the mission that God gives to all of us and find that you know both God and fellow parishioners and find that the Church does grow after all because grow is its very nature.  


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Our finest hour

This week we have a choice to make and it is a simple one: how will we live our lives? Will we live in concert with the whims and will of the people around us or will we go as God has called and drawn us? We get to decide.

There is a group of well meaning people who, well meaning as they are, don’t want Jesus to suffer the same fate that John the Baptizer did. John’s preaching antagonised the king and that landed him in jail and eventually got him executed. They have decided that they don’t want Jesus to suffer the same fate. So they go and try to warn him off of the path he is taking. “Don’t make him angry! Get out of here and go somewhere he cannot get to you!” they tell him.

In reply, Jesus dared them, “Go tell that sly, destructive worthless man that I am going to accomplish what God has sent me to do. Then it will be time to die.” Jesus is still living the plan. It had been decided before he came and his life has been all about healing and caring, restoring and redeeming that which has been lost.  It is if he had ripped a line from a popular movie, the Blues Brothers and he is boldly declaring to all who would try and stop or subvert him from his goal to “get outta of my way, I’m on a mission from God!” In doing so, Jesus declared that until he had finished everything God the Father had for him to do, nothing was going to stop him from doing it.

Then Luke notes the affection that Jesus has for the city and his sorrow over the fact that the city has not loved him back. He came and declared God’s affection for them and they offer heartbreak, pain, suffering and a grave in return for love. He wanted to gather in the people of the City of Peace and they rejected him.

I remember as a boy, there was one particular chicken, a hen who was considered to be the best hen of the entire coup. If you needed a hen to sit on eggs to get them to hatch then “Fonzie” was your girl. And Fonzie was special not only for the care and hatching of chicks, she was also special because her eggs were green. She was unique amongst all the other hens we had.

If we are to apply this to our understanding of who God is for us and for this moment, it is this: God cares for us all, wanting to draw us in and care for us. He wants to keep us safe while we are out there in the world and hold us close to him no matter when or how we come home.

So let me ask you this: what does the life, death and resurrection of Jesus mean to you? How does it change how you think, feel and live? And what might push you away from living the life that you are called to. Who will you honour and whom will you fear? God or the fox? You decide. And let this be the Church’s finest hour!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Voices in thin places

If there is something that is true about the prayer life of the Christian person, it is that we are truly revealed when we take the time to pray. On the mount of the Transfiguration, Jesus has led those who are closest to him up the mountainside to a high place, or as they might call it, a “thin place”. It is a place where we can be close to God. It is a place where God’s presence can and is easily known. Do you have such a place? Do you have a place where you can go and know the presence of God?

He took others with him and they were near him when he started to pray, they listened in. His disciples listened to him pray. It reminds of when I was little and my father would sit on the edge of the bed and help me to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. May his angels watch me through the night until I wake in morning’s light. God bless, Mommy, Daddy...” I share this with you because I remember later as a young adult, on my way to bed one night passing my parents’ bedroom and hearing my father pray the same prayer and asking God to bless the people around him. I found hearing him pray both a great treasure and a powerful encouragement to pray. It taught me something of my father’s faith and of his character. Perhaps this is why Jesus took his friends with him up the mountain. He wanted to reveal to them something of his own nature and character. As he prayed, his true nature and person shone through so that the disciples could perceive it.

And what did Jesus pray and talk about up on the mountain; what did he discuss with Moses and Elijah? They discussed his coming exodus. They talked about going into the city, his passion, his death, his resurrection and his departure through the ascension. And the disciples heard this. They had their faith confirmed. They had their hopes realized. They knew the prayers of their nation where being answered.
And then the greatest and most terrifying thing happened. They knew that they knew they were in the presence of the Lord and the LORD spoke to them from the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved, the Chosen, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

With that they found things as they used to be. The moment of prayer and of presence was seemingly gone and it was time to head back down the mountain. So if there is something that we need to keep in mind as we wait and watch the drama of Lent unfold, it is this: Prayer reveals our true selves and enables not only to talk to God and know that we are heard. We also need to stop and listen for God’s voice in those “thin places” that we might be used and obedient to God.