Last night my son Gannon, aged 11, volunteered to quit school in order to save the family money. (He attends a New Church elementary school.) The year has not gotten off to an easy start for him so this bright fellow felt that it would (a) help him and (b) help the family finances. I told him that though he might be happy with me now, he would surely be disappointed in me 10 years down the road. And I believe that.
And I believe that there are things a Pastor needs to share that may actually be uncomfortable to share. That discomfort comes from my ego frankly. I want to be “liked” and saying challenging things means running the risk of being “disliked.” What are those things that require sharing with this amazing congregation that in turn might put us in a good place maybe not today but maybe 10 years down the road?
Church Is Not Always Fun
We live in a consumer economy, one that creates an atmosphere of hyper-attentiveness to whether or not something “sells.” Faith is a hard “sell” so many churches slowly, over time, and out of a legitimate concern for self preservation frankly lean towards “entertainment” over “engagement.” Church offers environments of hope, healing, prayer etc… none of which frankly are all that sexy. But they are real. That means the simple act of showing up for the good series/ sermon as well as the bad series/ sermon is laudable. It is a simple discipline. Preaching requires a reaching to both ends of the spectrum – to those whose lives are in a place of celebration and those whose lives are in a place desperation. Showing up for both supports both.
The World Is Changing
37% of all families in the US now live beneath the Poverty Line as compared to 5% of retirees. The number of Americans living below the Poverty Line is now at all time high. Global warming is real. Governments in the Western Hemisphere are facing increasing stringent budget demands which in turn will limit government’s ability to address various social and economic issues. We are approaching finite limitations. These are real facts – structural limitations – and as John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things.” And, the joyous blessing, is that we can be part of the answer.
We Can Be Part Of The Answer
We can part of the answer. The success of NewChurch LIVE does not depend on the right music, the perfect sermon, the internet, funding from the General Church or foundations. It depends on us. We get to choose. We get to choose if we support the endeavor with our time, talent, and treasure. If we as a group do that, we will be successful. If we don’t, we won’t. That is a very different perspective than that of church-as-entertainment. As a congregation and community, we are not working for tips for a good performance. We are working to be part of the answer.
New Church Christianity as a life style can be integral to a new framing. Christianity offers a perspective, a way to hold the challenges moving forward. It does not give specific programatic answers but Christ clearly addressed how to hold poverty – spiritual and physical – as well other issues facing us in 2011.
New Church Christianity calls us to stretch in pursuit of those answers. Emanuel Swedenborg wrote in the book “True Christianity” that the failure to stretch means “our mind collapses in on itself” – a collapse we unfortunately experience as a narcotic, creating a happily detached sleep.
That being said, we can choose to stretch, to be awake, and in that stretch we will find joy, a joy that in turn provides a far greater “rest” and “peace” than doing nothing.
I read a recent article titled “What Your Congregation Most Wants You To Know.” Loved the title and loved the first thing the article listed. What a congregation most wants the pastor to know is that church is not the most important thing in their life. I say to that – thank goodness! My relationship with God, my spouse, and my kids all outrank my relationship with church. I would imagine that should be true for all of us.
We should not then sacrifice our most important relationships to serve church. And, that being said, church deserves our attention and financial backing. With that help it in turn can support and enhance those relationships as well as lives of grace, meaning and beauty here on earth. I imagine a day where Christianity flourishes anew, a flourishing that grows not out of an “entertainment” orientation but out of a candid, sober acknowledgment that Jesus actually knew what He was talking about, what He was living, and that His words guide, comfort, and heal in uncertain times. This is what we can discover in one unique place – church.