An effective church isn’t passive. Simply announcing, “We’re here, we’re nice; come see us this Sunday” isn’t the answer. A web site, a Facebook page, a welcoming gathering space, and a more inviting sanctuary are helpful. But these are all passive; assuming Sunday’s church day, and the other six days aren’t. Even in the best of times church is a hard sell, and these days few, it seems, are buying. More importantly, passive church isn’t the Gospel. Jesus didn’t settle down and wait for visitors, he engaged. Although followers kept pressing for a home base, Jesus stayed on the move. He arrived and the crowds are already waiting; many follow him from place to place. Good News that’ll impact people’s lives needs a life changing message not a building.
These days unlike Jesus we’re anchored to one place and we feel the burden: Can we afford this building of ours? Do we keep it or sell? Do we find a ministry partner and share? And if so, do we share our building, theirs, or someplace new? All of this isn’t news. We all know there’s not enough money to keep things going as they are. Without a change we’re only a few years from closing. Any new money buys us time, but that’s all. Something’s got to change, or we’ll be out of business.
Seven neighboring congregations are right there with us. Talks between Lake Edge and five of these churches are ongoing. Does God have a new way for us to serve together? The Bible has a Word for us. In Luke and the Second Book of Kings the Word of God isn’t passive; it engages people. There’s a prophetic healing pursuing Naaman the Aramean, while Jesus sends disciples to make a difference; with their lives and the lives of others. There’s an excitement in the air. A vital church doesn’t sit still. Vital churches have a prophetic calling and share it with a world in need.
So, what’s our compelling vision for a vital community under Christ? What are we passionate about that can stir the passions of others?
If we don’t ask these questions and act on the answers, then having a building here or there or anywhere hardly matters. Our Leadership Council knows well. They’re talking about what they believe our still speaking God is calling us to become. Soon you’ll be invited to share in the conversation.
For now, I want to talk about what I believe. I believe Lake Edge has already moved from a worship centered church; a Sunday only sanctuary, and is becoming a community active church. Our recent vote to covenant shoulder to shoulder in the fight for economic justice is an acknowledgment of this calling. Our new members seek a church that stands with the weak and marginalized, and will fight for God’s little ones. Our Facebook traffic after joining in the Fight for Fifteen or our principled witness against Franklin Graham proves it. The number of us involved in the ecumenical nutrition program to feed children and build community at Schenk Elementary School proves it. This is why I pastor Lake Edge, and why I’m determined to stay.
Our Scriptures tell us when things are unsettled and life feels overwhelming, it’s not the great ones who make a difference, but the people who get down to the business of service. Naaman’s a great and powerful man. But he’s only “pretend great.” No matter his fame, he can’t undo what people see. He’s a leper; his skin’s rotten. He may have authority, but he’s an outsider. Rubbing shoulders with the “powers” that’s only a disguise.
Although manipulated by his wife, some kings, and a Prophet; Naaman’s healing and wholeness is really in the hands of servants and slaves; everyday people on the move. Can you see what I see? It isn’t some big shot that makes a difference, but ordinary people working together. Trying to preserve a place to worship from Sunday to Sunday isn’t important. Speaking and acting for a difference-making God that’s what gets people’s attention.
Ah, but we’re prideful. When Naaman arrives for his cure his pride won’t allow him to be humble. Instead, he trots up to Elisha’s door all bad and sassy. Unimpressed the Prophet sends out a servant to deliver his prescription. And Naaman has a fit. “Doesn’t he know who I am?” “Of course,” the servant says, “you’re the guy who needs to clean up his act and join the team.”
At this perilous and challenging moment fear can drive us. And many are afraid our beloved church might close. Our fear can paralyze and distract us. Naaman thought what he needed was to be rid of his leprosy, but what he really needed was a change in direction. As one pastor wrote, more than healed of leprosy, “Naaman is healed of being ‘a big deal’” and that’s an important lesson for all of us.
As we look to the future, I feel the Lake Edge that “was” is still in the way of the church we’re waiting to become. We can’t allow any past moment to distract us from God’s hoped for future. If we focus on the numbers; whether Sunday attendance, the budget, friends who’ve left, or how many children are in Sunday school, we’ve lost. But, if we focus on Jesus’ call to teach and heal, first ourselves and then a broken world, the sky’s the limit.
Listen you humble servants; be healed of fear and embrace the Good News. People hungry for faith community aren’t impressed by a building. They want to know what we stand for, and whether it’s a vision that can make a difference. So forget about the building and the budget; instead ask, “How does Lake Edge make a difference? And how will you be a part of it?”