Committee meetings unnerve me sometimes. They are unscripted, unpredictable and that is exactly the sort of environment where I am prone to say something that is less than brilliant. But sometimes, these sorts of situations open the door to things we never expect; things like healing, forgiveness, awareness. I went into a meeting this past Sunday night thinking that we would talk about Sunday school curriculum and we did, for a while. Then, the conversation took an interesting turn and by the time we were finished Sunday school was the least of anyone’s worries. We talked about the direction of the church, the lack of younger people being involved, and how several people had left. It was a painful, but I think, productive meeting, well beyond the scope of what we intended to talk about and to the place of some things we needed to talk about and need to continue talking about.
After the meeting was over, I was standing around talking with a few people and someone began talking about our numbers at the church and where were all the people that used to be here. The usual reasons were brought up: people don’t care anymore, they are too busy, they work too much. The question, as it inevitably does, turned to me offering an opinion on the matter. We were standing outside the fellowship hall and I pointed left and right and asked this two-part question:
- When you’re in the cemetery, who is going to be in the church?
- What are you willing to do about it now so that there is someone in the church?
The people at the meeting, myself included, were talking about the numbers of people involved in this place. And so often we focus on the church as a place, a building we gather in and in many cases “hide from the big, bad evil world.” We focus on numbers and growth strategies, but circle the wagons around the ideas, people, and habits we are most comfortable with, locking ourselves away from the world.
But the church is not a place. If the building at the corner of Zion Rd and Old Pardue Road burned to the ground right now, Zion United Methodist Church would still exist. The church is the people, those who have come together in common mission and purpose for the sake of making disciples. And according to the research, the two reasons people go to and stay at a place of worship are community and relevance; the people come finding connection and feeling wanted, and the messages they hear from the congregation and the pulpit have real meaning in their lives.
And we have missed the boat. Our focus is off. For years the greater church was embroiled in something called the worship wars over the kind of music that is most godly, while the world looked on and saw fools behind the foolishness. For years, we have lamented the loss of “the next generation” while we refuse to reach out beyond the people we are most comfortable with. For years the church has focused on the ‘jot and tittle’ of the law (usually an interpretation that declares you in or out of the club) instead of the oceans of grace God would have us swim in and that people are thirsting for in a world so divisive that people will argue over most anything.
If we are to get to the place where we are community to those who are hurting and in need and we offer something relevant to their lives. I believe God will call us to change, to be transformed, to be made into something new as individuals and as a body. This is at the heart of being a disciple – one changed by engaging God through life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the refining, reconstructive work of the Holy Spirit.