The church universal is standing at a crossroad; right now the church sits at the corner of the 21st century and the gospel. Communities of faith have struggled with how to proclaim and live out the gospel of Jesus the Christ in a true, authentic and meaningful way. In our ever changing, connected and fast-paced world the church has some stiff competition for people's time, attention, and even money. Ministers around the country gather with financial officers and committee members to pour over the annual stewardship pledge cards trying to craft a budget that speaks to the communities' faith as well as trying to be reasonable and practical.
The ministries and activities that the church present are a reflection of the priorities and commitments of that particular faith community. How does the church proclaim the story of God's love moving through humanity? What is the point of all this if we have nothing to show for it?
When trying to formulate an answer comes a temptation, one that is easy to fall for. This temptation is not one of grand proportions where the choice is between a piece of carrot cake or a rice cake that we can see comedically presented in advertisements.
This temptation is lurking in the background of many churches and in the minds of congregations. It is easy to make it the central focus of how Christians articulate their faith, the reasonings behind ministries and the ultimate goal, purpose and role of the church in a particular community.
Waiting for churches and the faithful followers of Christ is the temptation to try to make the goal of ministries and programs of the church solely as recruitment tools to bolster the membership rolls instead of just sharing the love of Christ because the gospel demands us. The temptation waiting is to get caught up too much in the numbers and the acquisition of people and things that we miss the point of the gospel. This is a fine line and difficult temptation to battle. In a society where status is measured in the number of dollars one has or the size of a business, the comparison of things is a natural and relatable method of organization.
The issue here becomes that when we fall for this temptation we have inadvertently shifted the focus of ministry and the gospel away from the teachings, movements and commands of Christ to making sure we have more people in our church building on Sunday than the church next door. We find within the pages of scriptures the call to care for the other, visit the sick, clothe the naked as well as to "go into the world" and make disciples. We do not, however, find a call to have the biggest operation in town or at the very least has more than some other churches. This comparison is not to say that one is better than the other rather shifting the focus can have a detrimental effect on the reason why we do the ministry we do. Success (if you want to call it that) in ministry is not measured in bodies in the pew, rather it goes much deeper than that.
The ministry that the church does, whether corporately or individually, must come from a place of the spirit working and moving within and among us to make the love of God know to all people. This not something that can be manufactured and it is a different understanding and response from person to person. My experience of the Divine is completely different than someone else's; this where we are impatient to allow God to be God, to allow the working of the Spirit to form, mold and shape a person's heart.
Each Christian has a different way that God's presence, love, mercy, and grace has helped formulate and develop their faith. It is through this recognition that ministry is done and shared. Just as we have different experiences of God, people have different experiences of our ministries. For some, it is the message, the touch, the word that they needed to help them come to know God in a different and special way. For others, the ministries of the church are just good deeds that help out those in need and there is not a grand transformative moment; at least not one that we can see at first.
Ministry is not about how people show up or have grand emotional religious experiences, rather it is about how many lives are touched, no matter how big, how small or even if they know it.
What if we started to look at ministry through the lens of lives that have been impacted by the outreach programs or ministries of a congregation rather than who makes it to the building on Sunday morning? It is through these Divine encounters where people then want to experience God again or anew and maybe worship God in a place together.
The life of a follower of Christ is marked with self-denial, concern for the other, the poor, the outcast; it is marked with temptations to go with the flow, to leave our minds checked at the door, to accept that which is presented to us and go about our day.
The church will battle the temptation of numbers forever; we as the community of God need to see the world as a haven of change and love where the love of God and the grace of Christ can be shared without question or hesitation, or even a worry about who will come to our doors on Sunday morning. This is not the goal of ministry; the goal is to respond faithfully and wholeheartedly to the love and grace that has been afforded to us. Let's not be tempted to do otherwise.