A very brave friend of mine pastors a church that is dying. It has a long and good history, but it has not grown for many years and is a shell of what it used to be.
Recently in a long meeting with the leadership, my friend said, “I can no longer be your pastor if all you want me to do is to lead the church in trying to ‘keep the doors open.’”
What’s his problem? Is he simply being a crusty old curmudgeon?
No. His “problem” is that he remembers why Jesus called the church into existence.
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Many of us in the church don’t.
If you read this column, you probably are familiar with Jesus’ Great Commission. Speaking to disciples, such as yourself, he called them to make disciples from among all the peoples in the world.
We think that’s cool, and so we pay missionaries and pastors to do it for us. But we rarely take the time to ponder what that means for us personally. What it means is sacrifice and change. And the church constantly struggles with that.
For example, for the original Jewish disciples, it meant changing their precious worship culture in order to accommodate new Gentile believers. For us it may mean changing our precious worship culture to accommodate new younger believers.
Some have coined a very helpful word for this: missional. We have not been called to nurture an institution but to pursue a mission.
If that mission, in our minds, is simply to take care of the building, to preserve old traditions, we have lost sight of what Jesus calls us to do.
Conversely, if that mission in our minds means that we need to accost every person we meet with a tract or a canned evangelistic message, we have missed something critical as well. And if we think that we are missional if we pay a pastor and a few missionaries to evangelize for us, then we are delusional.
Jesus’ mission was to seek and to save the lost. This he did by leaving the comforts of heaven, enduring the discomforts of human life, and dying an agonizing death. Wow. Against that background perhaps the small sacrifices we might be required to make don’t seem so drastic.
Every effort of your life and every thing that drives your church is to be moved by this engine, that we are called to be a part of the extension of Christ’s kingdom. If shutting the doors of a church benefits the kingdom, then shut them. If changing the style of worship serves that greater good, embrace it. If, as pastor, it means leaving, then do so.
What it cannot ever mean is that we simply fight to keep the doors open. The mission of the church is far grander than that.
Rev. Randy Greenwald is senior pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church, 4455 30th St. E., Bradenton.