Category Archives: 2012-03

Pastor’s Pen for March, 2012

It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me. – Colossians 1:28-29 Sooner or later, you’re going to hear someone say: “This church needs to grow!”  I suspect that the first thing that will come to your mind will be a picture of more people attending worship, more money in the collection plate, and more fresh faces on boards and committees.  But while those would all be desirable outcomes, I don’t think those are the kinds of growth that the church should be most concerned about.  Rather, as indicated in the passage above, our focus needs to be on the cultivation of spiritual maturity.  Attendance figures, bank balances, and membership rolls may be useful measures of institutional success, but they tell us nothing about the maturity in Christ being fostered within the church community. In my 40 years as a pastor, I have seen numerous examples of churches whose members readily acknowledge their biblical illiteracy, have no sense of God’s presence in their lives, and have grave doubts about whether Jesus is anyone they really need to pay attention to.  I have seen congregations repeatedly elect officers who know how to run a successful business, but who have no idea how to discern God’s will for their church.  I’ve seen churches who are zealous to maintain their buildings and their endowment, but indifferent when it comes to building up the Body of Christ.  Yet I’ve also seen tiny churches, teetering on the edge of financial ruin, that are vibrantly alive with God’s love for each other and for their community.  Secular measures of success can be misleading when we apply them indiscriminately to the life of the Church. The future of local churches will be determined by their commitment to help people achieve maturity in Christ.  It won’t be our buildings, our social events, our children’s programs, or our fundraisers that will insure the church’s survival.  It will be our determination to help people work through their doubts and misconceptions, and introduce them to the life-giving power of God that can offer them a more meaningful and satisfying way of life than our materialistic secular culture can provide.  It will involve showing them a faith that is more than doctrines and ideas, but a lifestyle that can turn each day into an exciting opportunity to find God’s Spirit working within us.  It will mean helping them access the bottomless well of spiritual energy hidden within them that they never knew existed before.  The growing numbers of people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” have turned their backs on churches precisely because we have failed to offer them the tools they need to grow into the kind of spiritual maturity that Jesus offers us.  If we fail to respond to their longing for spiritual nourishment, the exodus from churches will only accelerate. But if we, as churches, rededicate ourselves to cultivating spiritual maturity, then that process won’t begin in our church sanctuaries or classrooms, but in living rooms and across diningroom tables.  Like the Early Church, faith will sprout and grow healthy roots in those safe, intimate, comfortable environments before it is ready for exposure to a more impersonal, institutional setting.  Healthy sharing of personal faith experiences will be needed before a person will be ready for liturgical expressions of such transformative events. Obviously, if we are to cultivate spiritual maturity in others, we ourselves have to be engaged in such a process ourselves.  Many of us would like to grow, but don’t know where to begin.  It is my hope that our current Lenten program called “Discipleship 101" will be that starting point.  Your participation and feedback will be a valuable step in our becoming the kind of church that will be known in our community, not only for its Food Shelf, but for its success in feeding the spiritual hunger of those seeking maturity in Christ. –  Duane