Thoughts by Pastor Dale
I got new glasses the other day. I can see better or more specifically, I can focus better. I imagine I’ll need to do this again in a few years. Even so, I’m grateful for eyes to see God’s wonder around me. Refocusing is a part of life. Every now and again, we change the lens through which we view life so that we can see what we may be missing. That’s true for church mission as well.
“Together in Christ… Reaching Beyond Our Doors”
For better than a decade, these words have formed our “Mission Motto” at Central Church. It’s still a good statement and describes well what we strive to do here. But I believe that it is time shift our focus for the coming decade. More “reaching” neighbors is what we need.
Over the past fifty years, Central Church has had a powerful “attractional” ministry. We have offered transformational worship opportunities; a healthy smorgasbord of programming for all ages; many opportunities to volunteer and serve in our programs; mission and outreach opportunities that have touched lives of both those served and those offering the service; and we have built a beautiful building-hub to house all of this.
Central Church also has a reputation in the community as a place that “does a lot of good” for those in need; a place that has “open doors” to all and strives to serve its community. Indeed we are busy place. And with prayer and good leadership we will continue to offer this multi-faceted ministry for years to come. In a day and age when church attendance is dwindling and the church is losing its influence in the larger community, Central Church has maintained its vitality and is bearing fruit for Christ. For the foreseeable future, people will continue to come to Central looking to receive spiritual bread for their journey.
But is there more that God wants from us? More our neighbors need from us?
You see, the situation is that for every person who is attracted to the church there is another who has no interest in what we do here. Half of them are done with organized religion, while the other half never had a connection to start. So, a necessary question is: Do we have a responsibility to that 50% of the population? Yes we do.
Furthermore those who do come to church are looking for something more too. Here’s the truth: People are more likely to join a church that is making a difference in the neighborhood because they too want to make a difference. That means that the “good news of the gospel,” must be good news that people can see and hear, taste and smell and touch. But for that to happen, the church needs to step outside, because half our neighbors are not stepping inside our building.
What would it look like if over the next decade we devoted more resources to this side of ministry?
The time is ripe for us to refocus. Our denomination is in a time of prayer and discernment over our future. How will the United Methodist Church be in ministry with members and neighbors who are gay? A year from now we may have the opportunity to make new choices about how we will be in ministry with LGBTQ members and neighbors.
I think you know that I stand for greater inclusion. But I also want you to know that I stand for “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Our “Methodist Mission” will not change and the need for this is greater than ever. People need to see what the love of Jesus Christ can do and we are the ones called to show them.
So what does this refocusing look like?
It means we keep doing the essentials with excellence. As our vision and values statement says, we continue to:
- Offer radical hospitality to all people
- Provide opportunities for passionate worship, intentional faith development,
- risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity;
- Be shaped by the historic Wesleyan emphasis on a vital personal faith, social justice, ecumenism and global concern;
- Respect diverse perspectives, while uniting in Christian essentials and resolving to love.
- Become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, who reach beyond our doors to have a transforming influence in our city and beyond so that others may experience the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ.
Good stuff. But refocusing also means balancing priorities. And while we do a great job of fulfilling the “Together in Christ” part of our mission statement, we need to spend more time “Reaching Beyond our Doors” together. Jesus reminded us that our job is to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. I’m asking you join me on a journey where we commit in new ways to being the best neighbor (Jesus style) we can be for the Traverse City area.
How do we do that?
We start by remembering just who is our neighbor and figure out how they need to be loved.
Our neighbors include:
- Families of all shapes and sizes.
- Neighbors who own or work for businesses.
- A jail with inmates and police officers.
- A courthouse with those navigating the legal system.
- Fellow Churches.
- A post office.
- A grade school full of children, teachers and administrators.
- A variety of charitable organizations.
- Addiction treatment services.
- Those who are happy, well feed and well housed and those who are hurting, hungry and homeless.
- Tourists walking sidewalks.
Oh, and let’s not forget the river and bay and trees and wildlife. They are our neighbors too.
The list goes go on and gets more specific as we go deeper into the needs neighbors have. But that’s the point of being a “neighborhood church.” We are called to go deeper in this specific place and love the way people need it.
Secondly, we remember the unique “good news,” AKA “love,” we have to offer.
We are those who: (in the words of our fearless leader):
- Bring good news to the poor
- Proclaim release to the captives
- Recovery of sight to the blind
- Freedom for the oppressed
- And declare God’s favor (see Luke chapter 4)
There is more to our calling, but these words remind us that loving neighbor is important work.
Thirdly, we love our neighbor by joining forces with them.
Neighbors are to be served and served alongside of. Our neighborhood is a resource rich and has much to offer us as we partner together to transform our community with love.
Lastly, we love our neighbor by letting them tell their story, listening well and, as they are open to it, by sharing our story of who we are and why we love as we love.
In today’s world the good news needs to be seen. The old adage “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one preached” is the view of many, especially the “dones” and “nones” who no longer connect to churches. That means compassion and character, not church doctrines or laws, is the vehicle through which Christ will transform lives through us.
Writer Stanley Hauerwas writes, we are to a people who “risk being peaceful in a violent world, risk being kind in a competitive society, risk being gentle among those who admire the tough, risk love when it may not be returned, because we have the confidence that in Christ we have been born into a new reality.”
Indeed we are those born into a new reality, into a life transformed by the love of Jesus Christ.
So what do you think?
Please join me and the leaders of Central Church in prayer and discussion over the following questions. I’d love to hear your responses.
Please leave your comments below.
- What does it look like for Central Church to be the best neighbor (Jesus style) that we can be?
- In what practical ways can we as a downtown church show God’s love to our neighbors?
This is a great time to reclaim our place here and our commitment to share the love of Jesus Christ.