Last Tuesday night we held a forum here at Bethany concerning the search for our new senior minister. We asked our Associate Conference Minister Don Remick to come and share some thoughts on the process and also to begin a discussion around the idea of shifting gears from searching for a settled pastor to what is called a designated term pastor. The big difference, and there will be more information coming out about this in the next few weeks, is that a designated term pastor come with a unique set of skills designed to help the church, such as ourselves, revitalize.
I describe it this way. Most of us have a doctor who is a general practitioner. They have a variety of skills to treat most ailments but will often refer you to a specialist such as a cardiologist or other such skilled professional. Yes, a settled minister might have the necessary skill set to revitalize a church but why not bring in a specialist to assist. As I said, there will be more information on this in the coming weeks.
But during the conversation last week, and thanks to those who took the time to come out, a question was raised about bringing more people to church and how we do that. The sobering response is there is tried and true method for how to do this. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of books written about bringing people to church but each church is different and each set of people, us, is different.
Also this past week a new study was released by the Public Religion Research Institute with the title Diversity, Division, Discrimination: The State of Young America. The study looked at what young people think is essential in their lives. It asked the question what concerns you the most about the future. Now, the survey is many, many pages long and goes into great detail but the point is these are the things that the young folks are interested in and have questions about. So how do we reach them? We start by speaking their language.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he speaks about being all to all. To reach the weak, I must become weak. To reach the Jew, I must become a Jew. In other words, if Paul wants to reach people he has to be willing to meet them where they are and talk about the issues that are important to them.
Years ago I did some volunteer work with a street mission in Kansas City. It was part of a missions program I was involved in, and it was designed to introduce people to ministering cross-culturally. One of the critical points I learned during those few weeks was you cannot minister to someone, in the hopes of changing their lives, unless and until their basic needs are met. Food, clothing, shelter the basic human needs and I will add a fourth to that list, security.
I might have the most inspired message given to me directly by the Holy Spirit, but if the person I am delivering that message too is hungry, they will not listen. We need to feed them physically before we can feed them spiritually.
What Paul is reminding us is that we have to put aside what we think is essential for what those around us think is important. He is not saying we have to compromise on our beliefs, but what he is saying is that we have to be open to those around us, meet them where they are, fulfill their needs if possible, and then we can share the good news with them.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to preach at Christ Church here in Quincy. I am not sure if any of you have ever been inside the church, but the pulpit is up a few steps. While climbing those steps, the preacher comes face to face with the enormity of the task at hand. There is a sign inside the pulpit, just at eye height as you begin the climb up the stairs. Right at eye level are words of warning from St. Paul, “Woe to you if you preach not the gospel.”
These are very sobering words for anyone who claims to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not just those of us who stand in places like here at Bethany or just down the street at Christ Church. All of us are called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with our very lives and so the question I ask all of us today is, are we doing that?
There is no doubt in my mind that Gospel has a preferential option for the poor. Jesus says he has come to preach the good news to the poor, not that the rich do not need to hear it as well, but the poor and oppressed need hope more than ever. Jesus came at a time and to a people that were being oppressed not only politically but by their religion and their religious leaders. The task was so enormous that no one could live up to the standard that was being put forth. Jesus came into that world and preached a radical message of love and freedom for everyone, not just a select few.
The work of the Gospel does not take place inside of the four walls of the church building. The work of the Gospel takes place out there, in the street, in our everyday lives. How we treat each other inside is essential, but how we treat those outside, and the message we project, is preaching the Gospel.
Paul tells us, “I have become all things to all people, that I might, by all means, save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”