By Ed Thompson
“What worries me most is that we – the church – will become so focused on survival that we will forget what our mission is.” This quote comes from Brian Blount, the president of Union Presbyterian Seminary. I think he’s right. Survival can become all consuming. What if we can’t pay our bills? What if we can’t pay the presbytery minimum salary? What if we can’t find a pastor? What if we have to replace the roof? What if the furnace breaks down in the winter or the air conditioner fails in the summer? The continuing focus on these kind of “what if” statements become an all too familiar litany when we focus on our survival.
Two passages from the Book of Order jumped out at me as I was getting ready to do some officer training last month. Christ calls the church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world, for its sanctification, and for its service to God. (F-1.0202) Christ gives us all that is necessary for our mission. Not everything we want. Not everything we ask for. But all that is necessary. The problem lies more in our attitude and our perspective. We think about – and worry about – what we don’t have. We overlook the assets available to us. We don’t consider the partnerships that are already in place. Even though we pledge to “serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love” we often seem to leave our imagination at home (perhaps using it to plan our next vacation) rather than using it to dream about what we might be doing with the people and the funds that are already there. Christ has given us all that is necessary.
I think it’s a lack of imagination rather than a lack of opportunities that keep us stuck. Rather than blaming God, we need to look in the mirror. It’s not about what we used to do. It’s not about what we could do if only we had ________. (You can fill in the blank however you want.) It’s about what God needs us to do. It’s about where Jesus is already at work in our community. Yes, we may represent Jesus but – spoiler alert – Jesus was already here before we got here, Jesus will be here after we’re gone, and Jesus is already at work in our communities. It’s up to us to figure out what our Savior is up to and what we could be doing to help.
The other passage from the Book of Order that struck me was from F-1.0301. The church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life. Somehow we often seem to think that it’s our survival that matters most, so we do our best to keep the doors open and as long as we can do that, we consider ourselves successful. While I hate to see churches close, I think churches would be more effective and more useful, as well as more faithful, if they were willing to die.
Of course, if we don’t survive, we won’t be able to engage in mission. However, our mission is so important, so central that we should be willing to risk using our reserves, risk changing our worship time, risk sharing our pastor, risk partnering with other churches – even churches of other denominations, and even risk closing our doors in order to live out our faith. How would you define the mission of your church? What are you willing to risk in order to carry out your mission? What are you willing to change in order to carry out your mission? What are you willing to do differently in order to carry out your mission? I think those are the questions we need to be asking. Doing so will not only ease the mind of a certain seminary president, it might also be pleasing to the one who came to serve.