1 Corinthians 12:14-31/January 10, 2016
Dedication of Church Leadership
Every November, before our District Conference, the Ministry Commission of the Pacific Southwest District of the Church of the Brethren provides a continuing education event for clergy and other interested people. This past year I attended the session called “Facing Decline, Finding Hope” by Jeffrey Jones, a professor of ministerial leadership at Andover. Jones talked about the decline in membership in churches across the United States. He told us he didn’t have any answers or pre-packaged programs to offer us. He had no magic pill to offer. But he said that he had a list of good questions that we in the church should be asking ourselves. The questions were pretty good. The one I remember is that instead of asking ourselves, “How can we bring more people in?” we should be asking, “How shall we send them out?” In other words, how are we equipping people for the work of God in the world…beyond these walls?
Most churches in this post-modern era of “spiritual but not religious” are asking the question, “How do we bring them in?” Less than 20 percent of Americans attend church these days. Christian churches across our country are frightened. They look around a dwindling attendance and they say, “We need more children. How do we get more children? How about, instead of Sunday School, we bring in inflatable bounce houses?” In many places the response is to make church an entertainment event.
Several years ago there was a Doonesbury cartoon in which, Mike, the central character went looking for a church home. He interviewed the pastor of the Little Church of Walden and asked, “How did you get your church started?” The pastor replied, “I took a survey in the community, and they all wanted aerobics, so we started an aerobics class. Then they said they all wanted basket weaving, so we started basket weaving. Then they wanted jogging, and so we started jogging. And the next thing we knew, we had a church. It’s getting so big now that we have a whole denomination.” In the last frame, Mike, who knows nothing about the Gospel, scratches his head and said, “So that’s how religion is spread.”
When the question we ask is “What programs do we need to offer to bring them in?” we are asking the wrong question.
Jack Hayford, Pentecostal minister and former pastor of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, which at one time reported a membership exceeding 10,000, said: “They come for the show, but they refuse to grow.”
Somewhere along the line, when we got “professional clergy” we stopped seeing ministry as the work of all of us. We hire people to do the work of the church, just like we hire people to mow our lawns. I had a fellow clergy friend say to me once that he felt like his title should be “the designated Christian.” He felt like as the paid pastor he was the one person who was expected to live a Christian life all the time. I don’t think that is completely fair but it has some truth to it. When we see Christian vocation as something that applies to clergy only, we knock the feet and heart right out of ministry.
In Paul’s analogy of the body he makes sure to say that the foot is not more important than the tailbone or that the eye is more worthy than the elbow. At the heart of Paul’s message he is saying that everyone is connected to everyone else and that what each of us brings matters to everyone else. Why would we weight any person or his or her gifts as more important than anyone else because, you see, these gifts do not come from us? A good teacher, a good musician, a good preacher knows that the gift they have is a gift given to them by God for the building up of the body of Christ. They did not earn it. They do not own it. They simply make use of it for the glory of God and their neighbor’s good.
You see, church is not where we come on Sundays. The church is who we are. We come here on Sundays, not because this is where we “do Church”. We come here on Sundays for the building up of the body so that we can be sent out, once again, to be Christ in the world. So the right question isn’t: “How do we bring people in?” The right question is: “How do we send people out each week?”
Taloo is part of the body of Christ in the world and because you and I are joined with her, we have some connective tissue in a transitional shelter for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Because you and I are joined with Jenny Y’Deen who is an animal keeper at the California Science Center we get to also care for some of the smallest animals on earth. Because you and I are joined to Joe Cahill, we get to deliver Meals on Wheels to people who can’t get out of their homes. Because you and I are part of the same body as Curtis Frick, we got to spend 38 years of our lives in public education. Because we are united with Cory Townsend we were interviewed by Rob Bell about what it means to be a peacemaker in our world today…and a lot of people listen to Rob Bell. Because we are part of the same body as Jim Lamb we got to stand in front of the City of Knowledge Muslim school and provide accompaniment for our neighborhood children. I could go on all day. The most amazing part of what it means to be church together isn’t what happens in this sanctuary….it is what happens outside of this sanctuary.
I think that is the number one misunderstanding people have of church. We don’t exist for ourselves. What we do here is equip the saints for their work in the world. I heard of a man who worked in business world for years and was touted for the work environment he created for others but he said that at church all anyone really knew about his vocation was that he was a deacon. Consider church like a weekly seminary, where you find training, continuing education, prayerful support and community connection to help you be Christ in the world the rest of the week.
Today we dedicate the leadership of this church….those people you have called out to serve on the board and on the commissions of this church. We don’t call them out to do ministry for us. We call them out to equip us for ministry we are called to do. They manage the affairs and create the programs of the church that feed us. They provide us with education, nurture, connection. They help us vision, pray for others, worship together, serve. They keep this building standing and oversee the money that makes this “seminary” building possible. They tell us what is happening in the world so that we might work together to build peace and justice. They challenge us, comfort us and call to us so that we might be sent out each and every week more prepared for our call to ministry in the world.
Those calls are as wide and varied as we are. Those calls can be everything from donating blood to raising children……running a business to caring for people’s health…..marching on the streets to sweeping the streets….called to be Christ in the world.
If you said yes to serve on the board or on a commission you said yes to being an equipper. If you said yes, will you please stand where you are?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, members of this body who have said yes to serving on the board and/or on a commission, do you promise, to the best of your ability, to serve in this role, not thinking more highly of yourselves than you ought to think, understanding that you are one member of the Body of Christ, which has many members blessed with many different gifts?
If you are seated, look around you at the people who are standing. These are the people who want you to succeed in your vocation. They are giving of their time and energy and expertise to provide you with this “seminary training.”
I invite those of you now seated to stand as your sign of affirmation and support for these people who have agreed to equip you for ministry. Will you join me in the unison statement in your bulletin:
We affirm you as leaders called to serve in this congregation. We offer to you our cooperation and confidence, our prayers and support.
Now I say to all of us standing together — in body or in spirit:
Together we are the body of Christ and individually members of it. We have been created in love. We are diverse and we are community. We serve together and we serve beyond these walls. This is the body we have. Thanks be to God.