This year, with the (because of the) encouragement and support of some long-time members of Zion, I feel a rejuvenated sense of drive and purpose when it comes to the “reaching out”.
Believe it or not this is something I have always had a passion for, and I believe I have some thoughts and ideas that might prove fruitful.
So you might be asking “Why have you waited five years to do this?”
The answer is simple: “I haven’t waited five years.” As I said before, people are now coming and saying “I am really interested in having people hear the Gospel at Zion.” Over the last 5.5 years at Zion, I have heard several attitudes (some helpful some not). For instance, when I arrived, I found that the reason a lot of people were wanting Zion to “grow” is because it would be easier to pay our bills if we had more people. This is a “many hands make light work” mentality, which is good if you are moving hay bales, but misses the mark of having people come to Church.
Why do people come to Church?
People come to Church for the simple reason that they are fallen and broken sinners. They are weighed down by their sins. Only Jesus can forgive them, so by the Holy Spirit, they are called, gathered and enlightened to be in His House to receive the gift of “pardon and peace” that He gives Christians in His Word and Sacraments.
When this is lost in favor of coming to church for reasons of “connecting with others” or “being uplifted because of music” or “the pastor preaches good self-help sermons”, what we are really losing, is the focus of Christ for His people; namely, the forgiveness of sins.
Granted, I will always hear “Are you saying I am not allowed to like the music?” or “Is it wrong to connect with friends?” My answer is always “Of course not, but where is that passion in defending the primary reason for Church? Where is your passion for God’s Word and His Sacraments?”
I’m sorry if it seems like I got off track there, but rest assured I haven’t. When the Holy Spirit calls, gathers and enlightens people in Church, we must remember that Word and Sacrament ministry is CHRIST REACHING OUT TO YOU.
What about my personal outreach?
Good question. For churchgoers, this is a more “2-tiered” thing. In the sense that reaching out to a fallen and broken world includes 2 main groups:
1. People on the OUTSIDE of the Church. Namely those who do not know Christ.
2. Those on the INSIDE of the Church. Namely those who have fallen away from regular attendance.
Most people read point #1 and say “For sure. We need to reach the unchurched!” Interestingly, the second tier often surprises people. People often struggle with the idea that keeping brothers and sisters in Church is actual outreach. I believe the reason is, they have bought into this idea that We are EITHER missional OR maintenance at our Church.
Missional OR Maintenance thinking is false and deadly poison to congregations. Why? Because it says PEOPLE ARE MORE VALUABLE WHEN THEY ARE ON THE OUTSIDE, and when we bring them to the inside (God’s House and family, mind you) they are already “connected and therefore need little to no care.” Can you imagine a shepherd who gathers his sheep into a pen and then never feeds or care for them??? What will he eventually have? A pen full of dead sheep. A most unappealing picture, indeed!
Don’t elders take care of calling on missing members?
Sure… the constitution and by-laws of most LCMS congregations have it in place that the Elders will call on absent and erring members. Heck, any pastor worth his clerical will always call on a missing member. Once again, that type of thinking is the problem, though.
We are in this together!
When we think of the people in Church, are we thinking of them like strangers on a bus or are they our brothers and sisters in the “Ark of the Church” (as our Baptismal liturgy reads)? The answer is “Ark of the Church”. These are people who have all been called to meet you at church EVERY SUNDAY. You have, in a sense, a standing date to meet each other. Now, in any other circumstance, if you have a date/appointment with another person/people and they stand you up, what do you do? Most people I know, pick up the phone and say “Hey! We had a date/appointment today, where were you? I missed you.” When we are missing someone we know and love, we tend to try and contact them when a meeting is missed, right? The same should be true for the Church. When The “Ark” pulls out of the harbor on Sunday and you notice some missing people, it is a friendly, evangelical and missional attitude which says “I am going to give that person a call. Relying on the elders for this is like hiring a person to call your friend/mom/dad/sibling if he/she stands you up. It’s too ridiculous to even ponder.
Putting it all together
As we continue in our studies of “the hope that is in us” we should remember that the hope that is in us extends out to both the unchurched and those who have fallen away from the church. Each is in the special condition of needing the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ for them and for their salvation. I pray that as people are reaching out, that they don’t reach past their own brothers and sisters who might need a hand as well.