Staying true. Having resolve. Standing out. Not going along to get along. These can be commendable when speaking about someone or a group whose actions resulted in a benefit for the good of their people. But when it is in my head that my resolve is benefitting my own preferences or my personal priority because that is what I feel at the time, eeeehhhhh maybe it is not so commendable.
There is comfort in familiarity. I still consider Dallas my home, but I have lived away for more than half of my life now. Without some sort of GPS device or driver, I have no clue on how to get around there sometimes so when I do visit, I pretty much stick to where I know most of the time. And even then, the same familiar routes have changed quite a bit since I last lived in Dallas. The surroundings and landmarks and the communities do not look the same. It takes me a while to get used to the changes. It is difficult for me to receive or to give directions. I am not sure if I get lost in the new details or if I am just too focused on trying to recognize something familiar. A generation has passed on. Some traditions we still do and others we recount during gatherings. One such tradition is the homecoming for my maternal grandmother’s community. I had always lovingly called it ‘the eating church’. For one Sunday in October we leave the big city and caravan across highways to paved roads to single lane dirt roads with no street signs. I always rode in the car with my grandparents because she would always be on time and my grandfather got a kick out of folk thinking I was his daughter and not his granddaughter. Dave always loved that. The devotion and congregational hymns accompanied by the piano, foot stomping on the wood floors and strong loud voices brings to mind movie scenes of timed pieces where there is the country church in the middle of a large field and you can hear the voices and movement far off. The young people in my family affectionately call it ‘the eating church’ because of the food, food, food, food. Everyone brought their choice prizes handmade by masters. O! M! G! When I left for school, I still did not miss the annual homecoming at ‘the eating church’. As my grandmother’s generation and those generations before her passed on, the attendance and offerings dwindled. There were periods the host church had no pastor. Our family caravan of vehicles became a single car. Handmade choice offerings that made up meal courses became boxed, pre-packaged, generic contributions. I recently asked what happened to the homecoming. I was told that there was a lack of consensus of where to hold it. The community has a Baptist and an A.M.E. church. Some of those left in the community and descendants living elsewhere wanted to change up the host location. It doesn’t have priority on calendars.
In Chapter 4 of Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Rainer admonishes that a church can surely die when it does not and refuses to look like the community. It could be socio-economic, age or racial disparities. For those still in the church, the change and differences are not all of sudden. Things happen gradually. Members and families leave for whatever reason. Those who lived near have moved away. The younger generations do not stay or their activity wanes. Those inside of the church keep business and activity inside of the church. Those on the outside remain on the outside. “When a church ceases to have a heart and ministry for its community, it is on the path toward death” (Rainer, 29). Can you minister to those who do not look like you or reflect where you are in life? Does church or ministry have to be done in a certain way to have your commitment and participation? The self-centered, self-preserving attitude and actions of a member permeates into ministry and the collective church not reaching and caring for the community misses God’s calling to look outwardly (Rainer, 29).
Philippians 2:1-4 (GNT)
Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another. I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better then yourselves. And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own.
Questions (Rainer 30)
(1) Does your church try to reach and minister to its community, even to the point of giving up authority to better reach the people? Explain your “yes” or “no”.
(2) When does a church act like a fortress?
(3) How does Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian church relate to churches today impacting their communities?
Money and time are where we reflect our priorities and preferences. When we are self-centered and self-preserving, our time is spent on choices and conduct that makes us satisfied. We allocate and spend our money to satisfy our personal desires. When it is time cut the budget, funds are still “inwardly focused” (Rainer 32). Dying churches decrease or stop funding ministries and activities that reach the community. We look for or find comfort in a routine and we do not want it changed. Or we become so focused on being released from an assignment even if it means leaving. “We hold on to things [attitudes] because we want our way of life” (Rainer 35). Priorities are a reflection of your heart. When your heart is sick, you are not as productive. Things become a strain and eventually you no longer have life.
Jesus looked straight at him with love and said, “You need only one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” When the man heard this, gloom spread over his face, and he went away sad, because he was very rich.”
Questions (Rainer 37)
(1) How would the budget and use of funds of a healthy church differ from that of a dying church?
(2) How does the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10 inform us about how a church might view the money it has?
(3) What are some ways churches can move their use of funds from predominantly an inward focus to an outward focus?
What do you think of with the word ‘rebellion’ or ‘rebellious’? Does it connote bravery or pride or independence? Perhaps violence or treason or saboteur comes to mind? Do you think of a parent / child or a leader / group relationship? Or is it more of a reminder of historical attempts for liberation?
When you believe you have a choice, you respond according to your strongest reaction. Yes or no. Go or stay. Your feelings, your priorities and your preferences quickly lead you to your initial response. When you feel you have invested much you stick around and fight your cause even if it is in a covert way. Spending much time talking about and trying to recreate the good days or special milestones is choosing to not be in the present. Changes and activity that should be going on, are delayed, ignored and just plan denied.
“Going in Christ’s power requires effort. Certainly the results are dependent upon Him, but obedience is work. And obedience in His power means that we are praying to Jesus so we can reach others. That requires an “other” focus. This requires us to look beyond ourselves. That requires us to get uncomfortable. That requires us to go.” (Rainer 42)
Matthew 28:17 – 20 (GNT)
When they saw him, they worshiped him, even though some of them doubted. Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”
Questions (Rainer 45)
(1) Why do most dying churches have members who are nostalgic about the “good old days”? What are the biblical implications of that mind-set?
(2) Look at and describe the different parts of Matthew 28:19-20. Is your church more obedient or disobedient to those biblical commands?
(3) What is the relationship between Jesus’ promise to always be with us in Matthew 28:20, and a mind-set that focuses on one’s own comfort?