Monday, April 19, 2010

Can we please talk about numbers?

I was once asked:

If your church was given a million dollars with the stipulation that it was to be used for "missional outreach" how would your church spend it? Or a similar question: If God had suddenly sent 500 new members to your church, would you have the ministry infrastructure to integrate them into the life of the congregation?

Both of these questions were asked under the heading: "Be careful what you pray for."


For all my sound and fury about the need for more missional thinking and acting in the church, these questions made me realize that they signify nothing. I would have no idea what to do with a million dollars. 500 new members walking through the doors on one Sunday would be a ministry nightmare. 

But if you read the Book of Acts, you'll see that it's not as if such an event is without precedent.

It makes me wonder if our churches are designed NOT to grow. That they're designed for efficiency rather than growth. It's a truism in organizational theory that organizations are perfectly designed to achieve the results they're getting. And if churches are fighting off decline and losing, then maybe it's time to think about how we organize ourselves. We are declining, but we're very efficient about it.

I know, I know, we shouldn't even be talking about growing churches. I know the arguments: It's a surrender to the culture's consumerist ideology. Growth turns people into pawns. Ministry into a business. Pastors into CEOs. We follow Christ crucified, not corporate titans. Our job is to run the race, not to win it. We don't count noses, we bear fruit. We don't take attendance, we care for others. We are a prophetic people. A disciple community. A royal priesthood. A holy nation. We are in this world, but not of this world.

That true. As far as it goes.

And while numbers don't tell us everything, they do tell us something. Numbers tell us who is contributing to Christ's church. They tell us who God is calling into community. They tell us that all these unique, gifted, children of God have encountered the gospel, and that God is doing something in their lives, and using them for the growth of God's kingdom of justice, mercy, forgiveness, and peace.

Numbers = people. 

People = God's beloved children. Fellow workers in God's vineyard.

If churches are growing simply to build a "successful" ministry, then I want no part of it. But if churches are growing because they are making devoted followers of Jesus, fellow kingdom builders, co-workers with God in the New Creation, then count me in. And I say, the more the merrier.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sermon: Easter 2C

"The door was locked for fear of the Jews," the text says.

Maybe. But I’m sure there was more to it than that.

Yes, Jesus' disciples were probably afraid that their fellow Jews might have wanted to see them end on the business end of a cross. But that's probably not the only reason the door was locked. They might have been afraid of something - or someone - else. And they wanted to keep that person as far away as possible from them.

The announcement of Jesus' resurrection might not have been good news for the disciples. They knew what they had done. They knew that they scattered like scared rats when Jesus was arrested. Peter knew that he denied knowing Jesus while Jesus was being questioned and tortured by the police.

They knew that, while Jesus was hanging in torment waiting for death to take him, the only comforting eyes he saw were the women - and John.

Everyone else had disappeared when things started getting real.

They probably knew that their abandonment was just as painful to Jesus as the nails in his hands and feet. John says that the door was locked for fear of the Jews. But I wonder if the door was locked because it was one specific Jewish rabbi they were trying to keep out out.

They had heard that Jesus was back. And now they...(whole thing here)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Sermon: Easter Sunday

While much of the bible is, in fact, literary. I tend to believe the gospel writers were both reporting fact and telling a story. While it's not my intention to somehow "prove" the historical accuracy of the gospel stories, because I don't think that's their point. The point of the gospels is to bear witness to what God has done in their lives. And we can go back and forth, arguing over the evidence, offering solid proof for the resurrection's truthyness. But Luke doesn't do that. Luke just proclaims what has been reported to him. And he was probably convinced of the resurrection, not through rational argument, but through the changed behaviour of the disciples. Their lives bore witness to what they had seen. They had gone from grief to joy, from a crowd of scattered cowards to a courageous community. For among them, Christ has risen indeed. 

We hear that Easter is NOT just about a dead man opening his eyes. Easter is NOT just about our sins being forgiven. Easter is NOT just about the miracle of victory in the midst of defeat. 

Easter is about...(whole thing here)