Since beginning my search for a settled position as a church pastor, I have had to read quite a few mission statements, job descriptions, and quick blurbs about what a church is searching for in a leader. Many of those blurbs and descriptions have two things in common: stewardship growth and increase membership. Most, if not all, churches are worried about their survival. If it's one thing that's incredibly shameful to a faith community, it's having to close its doors and books and seek brighter skies elsewhere.
Trouble is, the pastoral staff is largely looked upon as the one(s) who is/are to lead the way, attract new people (read 'younger families'), and provide their own job security. Which can make ministry look pretty self-serving. As I wrote in a previous post, yeah, I'm concerned about my income but I don't want that to be lurking in the shadows of everything I do.
As I wrote in my profile, "If you value new people as workers and pledge units rather than as welcomed agents of change and companions along the Way, then I’m probably not the right pastor for you." Ministry is about relationships, transformation, becoming alive and authentic, more of who God intends for us to be, not only for ourselves but so that we might liberate others. Salvation is not about some hereafter heaven, but about right now, this moment, being saved from drowning in self-absorption.
At one time I thought that the mainline church was in decline, has been in decline since the 1960's, because of this viewing new people through the headlights of money and survival. But it goes deeper than that. Individuals are not the only ones who can be self-absorbed. Because communities and corporations and countries are made of individuals, these bodies can also be self-absorbed. And that is why the church is in decline, why government is failing, why corporations and banks are in hot water--because their main concern is themselves and their survival. And today survival has all to do with money.
For the past few months this has been like a splinter under my skin but I didn't know what was causing it. I am tired of serving in a place, for a people whose main (not only) interest is themselves. We are addicted to ourselves and our own way of being. Worship and programs and Sunday school that are for us rather than for those who aren't here yet don't serve the gospel. I want to minister in a church that is up to the challenge of taking the first step, of the twelve, that says: We admitted we were powerless, that our lives have become unmanageable.
If we are to get unstuck, we need to get out of ourselves, and let mission and outreach become our worship. Jesus said that when we have ministered to the least of these, we have ministered to him. The prophet Micah asked God with what shall he come before God and bow down? With animal sacrifice, with signs of wealth, with the blood of one's firstborn? No. God has told us what is good and what is required but that we do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God. Or as Eugene Peterson put it in The Message: "And don't take yourself too seriously— take God seriously."
The worship that God 'needs' is that we behave with justice and mercy towards each other, with whomever. Not for only for our own sake but for the sake of the other. The good news of Jesus Christ is not that he died for our sins so that we might go to heaven. The good news can be summed up in six words: Love God, love neighbor, love self--and in that order. In this way we are saved from ourselves and our propensity to get stuck there.