A few years ago, I led a discussion group for members of different churches around Ohio that were seeking to make their churches more vital places of mission and ministry. Many of these churches have watched their memberships slowly decline for decades and are interested in attracting new members, particularly young families. But there are challenges…
There were several members of one struggling church that had obviously been having the “what are we going to do?” discussion. One of the members was eager to hear what other churches were doing to make their worship more relevant to younger adults. As soon as that person was finished speaking, another member from the same church spoke up and helped us understand why their church continued to struggle. She said: “None of the things we are talking about today address my needs! What about me?”
Hearing that perspective spoken so straight-forwardly knocked me back a step. I suppose I already knew this attitude leads many churches to grow ever more inward and ever more away from Jesus’ Great Commission to “go and make disciples…” But I have to admit hearing the idea spoken so boldly and with such confidence reminded me of how easily we can lose track of what the church is called to do and be.
The church was called into existence to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ and to draw people into a love relationship with God. I believe that when we accept Christ and take our place in the Church, we automatically become a part of Christ’s ministry.
Dr. Fred Craddock reminded a whole roomful of preachers of this same point at a conference I attended. Knowing there were many present who felt they hadn’t been treated fairly, or passed over for more prestigious churches and ministries, he gave us all some advice. He said, “If you are feeling a little put out right now, just take it to Jesus. Just go up to Jesus on the cross and say ‘Jesus, what does it take to move ahead around here?’”
Sounds pretty awful in that context, doesn’t it? Likewise, when we consider the ministry of Christ’s church, anytime we are tempted to focus solely on ourselves and our needs, we should imagine ourselves in the same place, saying, “What about me, Jesus? What about my needs?”
When the father in the story of the Prodigal Son spoke to the older son, he said, “Don’t worry! Your needs will be met. I know how faithful you have been.” Sometimes, when we start to think God created the church just to meet our needs, we need to remember that while God loves the faithful older brother, God’s heart goes out for those who are still far off. Our hearts should do the same.