As I mentioned in my post about my sermon, I had lots of great follow-on conversations after worship yesterday. Deep, thoughtful conversations; conversations about hard and difficult things. Here’s a recap:
- Numerous conversations about the futures of both churches (St. Andrew & Holy Communion), concerns and dreams alike.
- Conversations about understanding, not fixing each other….finding ways to be empathetic towards each other, to love through conflict, disagreement, hurt, & pain.
- Conversation about guns: both laws and what’s in the human heart.
- And conversations with newcomers, those “checking us out” for the first (or second) time.
It’s that last one that I want to spend some time on. As pastor, most of the time I try to “stay out of the way,” especially when folks in the congregations are making good, honest attempts to get to know neighbors and talk about the church community. Too often, those relationships are formed through the pastor instead of with the people. It’s a good thing when people show their passion for their church “family,” show interest and curiosity at newcomers, and do their best to include, but not overwhelm, those people.
As pastor, I’m no different than the folks in the congregation I serve; I’m genuinely interested in those folks who come through the doors, and like bragging about the people in my congregations, what they do, and how much I enjoy being their pastor.
But there’s that part of me that has to be really honest with them too. I’m honest about where we’re at….that both congregations I serve are at crucial points in their communal life; that there’s been some conflict and hurt in the not too distant past; and that they’re aging and not very diverse, which is true of our church nationwide too.
I tell them the people here aren’t perfect – but they do their best to love each other the best they can. And I tell them, if they’re looking for particular things – like youth ministry, or programs – then this might not be the place for them.
But I tell them who we are, and what we’re striving to be in a changing world. In a multi-cultural, multi-racial, diverse social-economic, pluralistic, technology-driven, and busy world…..the church has a new role in articulating the gospel to the world. The message is the same, but context is not.
I told folks yesterday that our churches don’t try to compete with everything else pulling and demanding your time. What we do is in our congregational life, articulate the gospel through our theological tradition so that people may see God present in their lives outside the walls. Our worship, our study, our relationships – especially our relationships – are places we encounter this God in Jesus Christ.
We ask tough questions and figure them out together. We laugh, we mourn, we eat, we sing, we pray, we commune around the Table for communion….together.
We realize you won’t be here all the time. Because you have a life to live…a vocation of using your gifts and self to witness to God’s presence in a world God loves. But we hope you’re around as much as you can be….because it makes us better, and we think it makes you better. And together, listening to our diverse, distinct voices, we’ll encounter this God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ that we’re all seeking for.
And if this isn’t the place for you….then we’ll do our best to help you find another place to connect to.
I suppose honesty scares people away….that’s a given. But I think in the world we live in today, honesty attracts a lot of people too. It’s not easy all the time, but in the end it’s worth it. Because out of honesty comes reconciliation and possibility; out of death comes new life; and out of the cross comes resurrection.
Besides, isn’t honesty always the best policy? (At least that’s what my grandma told me)