One of the tasks of my ministry as an interim minister is to assist the congregation in taking a look at themselves and all of their ministries. It is not an easy task to ask folks, who have been doing things are a certain way for a long time, to take a step back and evaluate the effectiveness of that ministry. There are many “sacred cows” in church work and some need to be put out to pasture, and sometimes, it is not easy for folks to let go.
Many questions need to be asked during the interim period, but one of those critical questions is “who is my neighbor?” Knowing who our neighbor is and what their needs are is an important question to ask when one is developing a vision for the future.
I dislike church mission and vision statements. There is a tremendous amount of time spent on these and by the time they are written they are already out of date. Most of the time these vision and mission statements are so ambiguous that there is no way to gauge their effectiveness or ineffectiveness and once written, they are never looked at or consulted again.
So I prefer to turn to Scripture for the vision and mission of the church. Love God, Love neighbor. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of widows and orphans, and visit the sick and those in prison. Seek justice, walk humbly with our God. Go into the whole world and make disciples.
One of the most significant issues facing the church as we move forward is terrible public relations. I have said it before, but it needs to be repeated, many, many people know what the church is against but very few know what the church is for and this is something we need to change. A church that is living up to its Scriptural mission never makes the newspaper or television news. However, churches that protest at funerals, condemn those they perceive as sinners, those who try and legislate their beliefs, they are the ones that make the news and thus the world only seem the fringe of the church. The world never sees the majority of regular church folk, out in the world, trying to make a difference by just doing what God commands them to do, love, feed, visit, etc.
The Lectionary Gospel passage for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost comes from Mark’s Gospel (6:30-34, 53-56)and is split into two sections. The first section deals with the rest that church folks need after ministry and the second section deals with what happens when all your plans for that rest go out the window when it is time for ministry.
Jesus has sent his apostles out to, and they have come back to tell him all that they were able to do. They are tired from their ministry, and Jesus recognizes that they need some rest, so he bids them come and take a little vacation with him. They were getting in a boat, they were going on a bit of cruise I guess, to head off to a place of isolation but some folks saw them and recognized them and followed them. When they arrived at the place of rest a crowd had gathered that needed help. Scripture tells us that “he (Jesus) saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Vacation time is over.
The second section, starting with chapter 6 and verse 53, jump ahead in the story. The apostles are trying, once again, to find a place to rest but the people recognized them and began to bring the sick to him for healing. Once again, no rest for ministry needs to happen.
There was a time in history when the church was recognized as a place of healing. Basil the Great started a hospital in his church for anyone who needed any healing. He employed doctors and other caregivers to aid the poor and the needy of his village. The church was a place of spiritual healing as well, but today most folks turn to self-help books and other things rather than come to the church. There are many reasons for this; the fact that most people feel that they will be judged by church folks being a big one, but also the church has retreated behind its walls or wood and stone and shut the world out. The church, and by that I mean the people, has made the building more essential and thus has slammed its doors on the neediest and vulnerable in the community.
There is a saying; I am not sure where it comes from, that goes something like, a church that is more concerned about the comfort of its members and not the needs of those outside of the walls of the church, is a dead church.
People are supposed to come to the communal gathering for rest and refreshment. They hear the word of God, feast at God’s banquet table, rejoice with others and are then sent out to minister to those around them. They spend a little time on the boat with Jesus, but that boat will come ashore, and the people will gather that are in need. The problem is, they do not recognize us when we arrive.
Scripture says that the people recognized Jesus. Most of them had never seen or heard him speak they only knew him from reputation. Word spread that this man, who had healed others and taught them amazing things, was in their town and they wanted to meet him and maybe be healed. They wanted to spend time on the boat with him, and so they left everything and came to him, and he went to them, but they recognized him first. Based on what I have seen in the world and the behavior of so-called “church people” it is no wonder no one is coming because he or she do not recognize Jesus in them!
We need to recapture the simple mission of the church to love God and love neighbor without condition. The church needs to be the church, and by that, I do not mean the building but the people. The people of God need to be about doing God’s work in the world, and that is not condemning the world and those in it but loving the world so much that we will give everything we have to make it a better place. Moreover, the only way to do that is through love! God loved the world so much that he gave the world his only son, not to condemn the world but to love the world.
Okay church, it’s time to get out of the boat and get to work!