Bishop’s Report to the Synod 2014 (July 2014; Volume 3, Issue 7)
“What’s one easy thing we can do to fix our church?”
She was very serious, and wanted me to give her the answer, the key, the magic, the hocus pocus. She wanted to know, because she cared about her church.
My answer was crisp and clean. “There isn’t one easy thing.”
I could see the look on her face; it was a combination of disappointment as well as acknowledgement that she knew I was right.
There are a whole series of things that can be done, that must be done, and they all fall under one common theme. The local church has a bright future if it is intentionally externally focused. What do I mean by that?
An externally focused church spends time around these questions:
- What do our neighbors think about us?
- What are the barriers we are putting up when people come to our church?
- How can we behave like the Christians we know Jesus longs for?
- How can we show the people in the five block (or half mile) radius that we really truly care about their well being?
- What could we learn if we interviewed a local school principal?
- Which is more important to us? Preserving our legacy or impacting our community?
These are the kinds of questions that externally focused churches spend time discussing, debating and acting upon. These are the focal points of church council meetings. This is what pastors are discussing with their leadership teams.
If your church is internally focused, candidly, “you’re toast.” It’s all over. Why? Because people are leaving internally focused churches.
They are tired of silly debates about whether or not color of the napkins should match for coffee hour. They don’t want to fight about whether the prelude should come before or after the announcements, whether or not the pastor’s children make too much noise. They are leaving silly budget fights. There is no future for churches like that. I’m sorry but it’s true. The club model of church life is over.
My 2014 report to the synod could wander down the typical pattern of numbers, budgets, and buildings. I could wax poetically about relationships, partnerships and cruise ships. But, “Frankly, Charlotte, I don’t give a damn.” In my view, I’m not convinced Jesus does either. We’ve got a hurting world all around us: domestic violence, poverty, war, lonely people, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, housing crisis.
We need to join God in the neighborhood, find others who are working on solving these problems, and get with it.
Our mission and our worship are connected, or they need to be. The table of God’s grace is connected to the table in your home, the table at the school cafeteria and the table at the local fire station.
I’ve spent nearly two years now visiting every single one of our congregations. Yup, by the time you walk in the doors of the synod assembly, I’ll have been to all the churches, plus all of our new mission starts, Camp Calumet, our seminary in Philadelphia, several hospitals and a few campus ministry sites. Here is the one key answer to all the questions:
“The church is the church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It tells people of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bishop James E. Hazelwood