In his book, Letters to the Church, Francis Chan describes an exercise his puts to church leaders. “First, I have them list all the things that people expect from their church. They usually list obvious things like a really good service, strong age-specific ministries, a certain style/volume/length of singing, a well-communicated sermon, conveniences such as parking, a clean church building, coffee, childcare, etc. Then I have them list the commands God gave the Church in Scripture. Usually they mention commands like ‘love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12), ‘visit orphans and widows in their affliction’ (James 1:27), ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19), ‘bear one another’s burdens’ (Galatians 6:2), etc. I then ask them what would upset people more—if the church didn’t provide the things from the first list or if the church didn’t obey the commands on the second list.”
Ouch. That really got me thinking. And, to be honest, worrying about my faithfulness to the Gospel. Are we focusing on the right things? When I ponder all the things congregations are concerned about—service times, styles of worship, building plans, salaries—compared with the issues of concern to the rest of the world—poverty, homelessness, lack of civil discourse, addiction—I feel ashamed at the pettiness. “To inconvenience and beyond!” I declare, bracing for any negative reactions to the less than sweeping changes we’ve made in 2019 to our Sunday morning routine. To be frank, thus far they have been minor and few. But perhaps because we’ve set the bar too low. There is an extremely wide range of possibilities beyond inconvenience. When Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me;” when Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ,” suffering and death is implied. More than than, they are almost guaranteed.
So, bear with me in the days and weeks ahead. As a pastor I want to be accepting, forgiving and giving thanks for those tiny shoots of life I see in the people for whom the Gospel has taken root. But I wonder if I’m condoning incremental changes when the Holy Spirit promises miracles. There are too many people out there (and in here!) who may have gotten the impression (from me!) that being a Christian, following Jesus, will cost them nothing—except maybe an hour or two on the occasional Sunday. Surprise! Jesus taught the exact opposite. What’s more, he promises that giving up our lives will result in our receiving life everlasting. A short-term loss for a v-e-r-y long-term gain.
I think of it not as pushing people, forcing pain and suffering upon them, but rather as kick-starting joy. Pushing them to push themselves. I don’t actually remember it, but it is part of our family lore that when I was 2 years-old, my parents tried to get me to swallow some cold, slimy, brown stuff; and I would have nothing to do with it. They had to hold my arms and legs down, and when I refused to open my mouth, pinch my nostrils until I had to breathe. That’s when they shoved the spoon in my mouth. And I had my first taste of chocolate ice cream. They say my countenance changed in an instant, I became a happy child, and opened my mouth as wide as I could. That’s what I want to see happen with Good Shepherd Lutheran Church…except maybe with less kicking and screaming.