After all the excitement and energy the first Spark concert provided, I decided to devote my previous post to something relevant to that evening. The following post is part 2 of "Are We Excited", which I posted prior to "The Sticky Floor".
I want to tell you a story, it's pretty long, but I am going to condense it as much as possible. There was a church that had been vibrant for many, many years, with wonderful servants of the Lord, a strong Sunday School, well attended Sunday service, amazing music and too many programs and groups to mention. Over time, its members started to age and very few younger families were joining. Now those remaining were still strong in faith, but their numbers were dwindling for various reasons, most notably age. As that happened, attendance dropped, programs and activities decreased, or even ceased to exist and it was as if they were just holding on, hoping something would change, but really not doing much to bring about that change. Sounds like hundreds, if not thousands of churches around the country, including many which have closed their doors for good. It sounds a little like our church as well.
With that being said, we decided that we weren't going to let that happen. We were going to do whatever was necessary to reverse that trend and bring life and growth back into GUMC. And it is from the people of GUMC that I obtained the ideas for my top 12 list in my previous "Are We Excited" post. What I have witnessed in less than a year has been nothing short of miraculous, has God's hands and spirit written all over it and has truly been a reflection of Jesus (see #9 on the list).
We have decided that we aren't going to just hang on, but we are going to do whatever is necessary to bring younger families back, leave behind a church that our kids and grand kids can enjoy, as we all did and reach out to those outside of our circle, with getting outside the circle probably the most important. Think about a circle, in fact, think about our GUMC circle. We are great at ministering to each other, loving each other and serving each other. However, if we only take care of, serve and minister to those in our circle, all we do is go around and around until that circle gets smaller and smaller and eventually fades away. It was a great circle, but over time, without growth, it disappeared. Take that same circle and open up one end. It doesn't have to be a large opening at first, but just enough to let others see some of the wonderful things we have inside. Remember my saying, it's better to start small than not at all. As that happens, the circle starts to get full, so we have to open it up a little more and a little more and before you know it, that opening just keeps getting larger and larger. It never closes again, but just keeps bringing more and more into the fold. That is what we are becoming, the church that loves all, welcomes all and serves all and in doing so, our interlocking arms will continue to get wider and wider, surrounding more and more of those who are looking for something and all we had to do was open up that circle a little bit.
Next, I want to relay just a few of the things I have witnessed amongst all of you over the past year that influenced this post.
#2, get involved, no matter what our age. The days of saying I served my time, now I'm going to sit back and cruise, are long gone. Maybe that's OK with life after retirement, but I know it's not OK with our faith. Maybe in eternity we can relax, but while we're here on earth, use what we've been given in time and in gifts to serve and help others. Example- I believe the out front people for K'motion are all over 50, one is retired and none will have any kids or grand kids in that program and the same can be said for the many volunteers in that program, as well as our community wide VBS this summer.
#4 Stepping out of our comfort zones. I think it's pretty clear to all of us, if we stand pat, stay in our nice little cozy GUMC atmosphere and don't start doing some things differently (you notice, I didn't say all things differently), there won't be a GUMC in 10-20 years, or what remains will be a shell of itself.
Examples- to name a few, we're changing up our traditional service time, we're adding the modern service, adult Sunday School has changed and we have to make some alterations to the sanctuary in order for it to be more conducive to the second service. Those are some giant steps!!
#11 Make disciples. Meeting at church on Sundays, in Sunday School and some of our long time groups isn't enough. Many things we do now, we have to do better, while other areas will require alterations or complete changes. Examples- see #4 above, Bible 101, Foundations, W3, Wednesday morning group, friend day, bible study, participating in the community prayer walk, the Spark concerts, participating in the Girard Parade and all the summer bible readers in the Asbury class.
#10 Don't be negative and most definitely, don't be judgmental, even when it's something we may not particularly like or agree with. All of us aren't going to agree on everything. Example- we are all making sacrifices, and there are some things we may not agree with or care for, but if it's for the betterment of His Kingdom first and our church second, we still are giving it our blessing.
#3 Share. This is one I think we're getting much better at and I have witnessed personally and publicly as well. Examples- I have heard more bible based conversations than I ever remember in groups, in personal conversations I've had with others and at various meetings, people are speaking out more openly about their faith, people are realizing that there is way more to being a Christian than just attending church and aren't afraid to make visible changes and people are willing to express themselves regarding our church's new direction and endeavor.
#7 Use our gifts. Read Matt 25:14-30, the parable of the talents. God gives us all gifts, but we must use them or risk losing them and they are to be used not for our benefit, but for the furthering of His kingdom and to serve others. Examples- look no further than our church band Revive, talk about using your gifts, then there's our new choir director, who didn't abandon our traditional numbers, but isn't afraid to add a modern flair at times and the new leaders in the church, who have stepped up to head groups or meetings, or offer their visible support.
And finally #12, His Kingdom first. Read everything above!!
If you were able to hang in there and read this entire post, I think the answer to the title of this post is a resounding YES!!! I'm sure you can easily add many other things to this list, as I could, but it was already long enough. So with summer upon us, I encourage you to keep the momentum going, keep reading, keep praying, stay involved in the church, or get more involved and keep serving and sharing so that when we go to our two services in the fall, we'll hit the ground running.
I know everyone isn't a "cleaning freak" or "neat freak" or Mr./Mrs. Clean, but for the most part, I am willing to bet that most of us would agree we hate a sticky floor. Whether your shoes or socks stick to it, or even your bare feet, most of us will usually at least give that area a quick wipe. And without getting into some of my own personal obsessive traits, which there are quite a few, let me just say that sticky floors are gross!!
So how could it be that the other night Susan Ardale and I were happy to have a sticky floor in Fellowship Hall? A floor with a few small lemonade spills, ice cream spills, cookie, brownie and other sundae topping pieces on it and even some spills that I wasn't quite sure what they were, not to mention a few tables with some ooey, gooey conglomerations. Darn kids and adults too, they made quite a mess of our typically clean Fellowship Hall. And you know what, I want to personally invite everyone of them to come back and do it again, with one caveat, they bring that same energy and life they brought with them that evening as a collective group. I have been going to GUMC for 30 years and I challenge anyone to tell me the last time we had that kind of energy in our sanctuary, in Fellowship Hall, or just in our church in general on aFriday evening, let alone most Sundays. Without getting into the cause of this, which is another entry all to itself, I will say that our church band Revive got the energy source going with their concert that evening and it carried over well into the rest of the night.
Now let me be the first to say that there is a time for respect and reverence when it comes to the house of God, but let me follow that up with this, if I have to choose between a pristine, shiny and spotless sanctuary with 75-100 people in it, or less, or one that might experience a spill or two or three, with 250 people in it, singing, clapping and praising the Lord and listening to louder than normal music, I will choose the later every time. And as for Fellowship Hall, if we have to do a little extra cleaning, SO WHAT!! If that extra cleaning means we are opening up our doors to those that may have never heard the gospel, or have walked away from it, or aren't sure about it, then guess what, isn't that exactly we are commanded to do by God. In fact, isn't that what God expects of us? If we want to be known as the church that welcomes all, loves all and serves all, then we can't pick and choose. Did Jesus? We are all God's people, young and old, rich and poor, weak and strong, clean and neat and not so clean and neat.
Is our church changing? You bet it is!! Check out this change. On a Friday evening, yes I said a Friday evening, in our sanctuary we were encouraged to pull out our cell phones, we had bottled water (what???), some people were a little too loud at times during the service, there was some clapping, there was loud music and yes, there were a few messes. But........there were also 250 people singing, praying, worshiping and eating some darn good ice cream sundaes together and the Holy Spirit was alive and reverberating throughout that building. And if all that means we have a little messier church, then buy a few more buckets, cleaners and mops and let's do it again real soon!!!
If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God! 2 Cor 5:13
I'll guarantee you the first time I read that verse, I blew right past it. And since I've read 2 Corinthinians multiple times, it probably happened more than once. Then one day in a bible study that passage was referenced. It happened to hit me at a high time in my faith, when I was bursting at the seams with excitement and wanted to share it with anyone who would listen. And guess what? I got it!! In those times of utmost excitement in my faith, it was never about anything else other than to bring glory to God. I was nearly out of my mind with excitement and I wanted everyone to feel that. But in those times, we are often labeled as "Jesus freaks", "bible thumpers", or "they think they're better than everyone else". Guess what often times happens next? That inner fire is doused, worldly influences step in and the excitement is gone.
So what do we do about that? How do we not let that happen? Or, how do we get that excitement in our faith lives for the first time, or if we have it, keep it there? In honor of the end David Letterman Show, I'm going to give you my top 10 list on how we can do this.
1) Surround ourselves with people of faith. With positive people and with those who aren't self-serving.
2) Get involved, no matter what our age! Get our hands dirty. Help others through our church or community based service organizations. Retirement might be from work, but it's not from faith or from service.
3) Share, share and share some more. Share our stories of faith. Share our hopes and dreams as to the direction our faith is heading, where we hope it will go and what we doing to get it there. Share with others, like those that shared with us, to help us along in our journey. Share our ideas and dreams for the direction of our church. Share our time.
4) Step out of our comfort zone and don't be afraid of change, especially when it furthers His kingdom.
5) Read the bible every day and allow the amazing gift of His word into our lives and share (there's that
word again) it with others
6) Encourage others.
7) Use our gifts.
8) Be accepting of all.
9) Be a reflection of Jesus in all that we do and say. OK, this one is really difficult. How about, try our best in all that we do, every day, big or small, to be a reflection of Jesus.
10) Don't be negative and most definitely, don't be judgmental, even when it's something we may
not particularly like or agree with.
OK, I lied, it's really the top 12.
11) Make disciples.
12) Last and definitely not least, HIS KINGDOM FIRST!!
So here's a few questions I ask of us all. Are we excited about our faith? Do we get excited about going to Sunday School and/or to church? Does our faith energize and sustain us? Or, are church and/or Sunday School something we do because it's what we're supposed to do on Sunday? Is faith something we talk about, but not something we live?
In my next post, I'm going to reveal where I got my top 10, I mean 12 list. And no, it's not from some Christian web site, or amazing book and most definitely not of my own doing. I actually obtained those 12 ideas from an unbelievably amazing and inspiring source. One that has re-energized my faith to a new level and one I hope will do the same for you. Until next time, don't let anything douse your flame and keep that excitement alive for all to see!
Let's pick up right where we left off...
So how do we ever consistently stay in contact with God, when we have so many distractions that it seems like it's next to impossible? When we think of God communicating, or talking to us, I believe many times we think we have to hear His voice, or have some significant sign or it has to be an almost surreal experience. That is why we often miss Him talking to us. I have learned this the hard way and continue to keep having to remind myself that God doesn't have to come to me in some spectacular manner. And this is where I'd like to focus the rest of this post.
1) Talk less and listen more, because God often will speak to us through others. This is probably the number one area where I miss Him speaking directly to me. I'm so busy telling my story, or sharing my thoughts, or caught up in what I have to say, that I don't shut up long enough to listen.
Over the past few years I have found my self more and more often in conversations regarding faith with people. And it's not just friends and family, but also a casual contact, a virtual stranger or people I thought I would never be having a faith based conversation with.
Many times I am so excited to be having these conversations, that I don't stop talking long enough to let the other person get a word in edgewise.
As I became more aware of this personal flaw, I now do my best to talk less, sometimes not at all and just sit back and let the other person talk. Sometimes God has something to say to us, but He says it through one of His messengers and if we're too busy talking, or not listening, we might never get the message.
2) I pray and pray and pray and yet it seems like He's not there!!! Before I say anything else, please listen to this, DON'T EVER STOP PRAYING!!! Now that we're clear on that subject, why does that seem to happen? The number 1 reason I don't hear God while I am praying is because I don't listen. Do you see a pattern here? If not, read #1 again. Yes, I have listening issues!!
I get so caught up in my requests, my prayers of intercession and prayers of thanks that by the time I'm done, I've either fallen asleep, if I'm in bed, lost focus and moved on to something else or start thinking about other things I should pray for.
Sometimes prayer time can be very active, because we have a lot we need to take to God, believe me, I completely understand that; however, sometimes we just have to stop. Stop praying, stop talking, stop asking and just be quiet. When I started doing this on a regular basis, I definitely felt God's presence more often. Trust me, it's not a cure all and at first it may seem odd, but it works. Give God some time to reach back to you during your prayers. Let Him look into your heart, stir something inside of you and make you realize that yes, He is there.
3) God will speak to you through his word. This I can attest to on many, many occasions, but first a story I want to share. I have a friend named Joe, whose faith has blossomed over the past year or so to a point where it has been a true inspiration to me. We often talk about the bible, share inspirational bible texts, or during conversation, share something we read that really inspired us. In fact, he is probably the person I recently have instituted #1 (talk less, listen more) with the most. If you don't believe me when I tell you that God will talk to you through His word, let me introduce you to Joe. You think I can talk a lot when it comes to bible reading. Get Joe going and he will blow you away. And it's not always with what he says, but with his energy and spirit.
In the past three or four years, I would say this is the area where I have heard God the most. Trust me, it may not happen for days or even weeks, but when it does, it is amazing and truly faith altering.
Many of you have heard the story of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement and how he felt his heart strangely warmed in Aldersgate. The first time that happened to me in God's word was when I read my first entire book in the bible a few years ago. And though it was only 4 chapters of Philippians, it stirred something inside of me that I wanted to feel as often as possible.
I don't always "get it" when I read something, but that will never stop me, nor should it ever stop you. And here's why, because I've gone back and read that same thing later and "got it" and God has totally blown me away.
Don't ever, ever give up on reading His word. He will speak to you through His word, if you allow Him to. It doesn't happen every time, or as often as we might want, but when it does, it can lift your faith to a whole new level.
So there you have it, a full proof way to hear God to speak to you. Just joking. However, I truly believe that if you put these things into practice more often, you will hear God. It might not be in voice, or some spectacular sign, but when you feel something stirring inside of you, recognize it as the spirit, as God's presence and thank Him for it.
Once you start feeling that on a regular basis, I believe you will want it more and more. So is God there? Yes, He is always there! We just have to leave our eyes, ears, heart and spirit open and be ready for that time when He reaches out to us and when He does, hold on, because it's a ride you'll never want to get off of, but just stay on forever.
As I began to write this post, my brain was a jumbled bunch of thoughts. I was lost. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to say, but couldn't get started. Then I realized that I wasn't just listening to my own thoughts, I was also listening to the news on the TV in the background. I got up, shut off the news and almost immediately, I was tapping out words on the computer. Amazing how much clearer we can think, or deal with the task at hand, when we shut out all the 'worldly distractions" and focus. The same can most definitely be said when it comes to talking to God, or even more so, when it comes to Him communicating with us.
We've all heard stories about how God talked directly to someone. There are many in the bible, but I'm sure you know of many others which are much more recent, including in our own time. You probably even know someone who has said that they've heard the voice of God. Then why is it that so many of us feel like God doesn't talk to us? There are many reasons we can all think of, but I'd like to explore 3 that I came up with.
1) We want an answer right now! Yes, we've become, for the most part, the generation of instant gratification. Fast food, instant news, same day delivery, 30 minute oil changes, 1 hour dry cleaning and on demand movies, just to name a few. So why not fast faith? Take our concerns to God, or ask to hear from Him and whammo, prayer answered, voice of God heard. C'mon Lord, you have to adjust to the times like everyone else, right. WRONG!!! Think of all the times in our lives when we've made a snap judgment, or a decision while our emotions we're running high. Could you imagine if God answered some of those prayers right away? I know my life would be entirely different right now and it wouldn't be for the better. In fact, it's possible I might not even be here right now. I wish I could answer the questions so many of us have as to why some prayers are answered quickly, while others take what seems like an eternity. This isn't always comforting to me, but it usually helps. The Lord does His work in His time, not our time.
2) Worldly distractions. Think about our every day lives and all distractions that are in place to keep the communication lines with God clogged up or even blocked. It virtually starts the minute most of us wake up, with an alarm clock and before we fall asleep, as our cell phone goes off one more time. And in between those two occurrences, think about what else keeps us away from communicating with God. If you have kids, just taking care of them will definitely keep you busy, then throw in all their events, like band, sports, dance, after schools events, friends and most days are already jam packed. Now add in work, home and yard care, bills, social media, TV, cell phones and computers (and I'm sure you can think of more) and I would say the communication line between you and God is over loaded and possibly out of service.
3) We rarely take the time to just listen. Yes praying is important, as is just talking to God. And when we're fortunate to actually find some time to communicate with Him, we're so busy praying, talking, asking for things and making our requests known, that we rarely, if ever, just stop and listen. We rarely let our brains just shut down for awhile, clear our thoughts (see the first line of this post) and let God come to us. We have so much stuff going out that it blocks what the Lord is trying to send our way.
So how do we ever consistently stay in contact with God, when we have so many distractions that it seems like it's next to impossible? In my next post, I'm going to give you some suggestions that have worked for me. In doing my best to insert those things into my daily life, it has allowed the lines of communication to open up, the wall of distractions to crumble and me to more often hear the Lord.
A few weeks ago, our church and Churchill UMC had a trivia challenge night. It was a really nice evening, which consisted of some good food (of course, we're Methodists), good company and some good old fashioned fun. The trivia wasn't all bible related, but covered a wide range of topics; however, there were various bible or faith based questions as well. Some of the bible questions were "way out of my league", but many of the answers I knew. However, there were a few I didn't know, that I thought I should have and I felt somewhat embarrassed inwardly that I didn't. Over the rest of that night and even a few days later, it still sort of bugged me. Eventually I forgot about it and moved on.
Then one night, while reading the book of Judges, I had a little revelation. I thought about where I was a few years ago regarding the bible and where I am now. Yes, I have a long way to go regarding my knowledge of the bible, but darn it, I've come a long way too!! Cheese, I'm reading Judges!
Over the next week or so, I began to see a post developing for this blog, with many different thoughts popping in and out of my head. I thought about how much my life has changed for the good, how much my faith has grown and how much stronger it has become, primarily because of the profound affect of God's word.
I thought about how God's word completely turned my life upside down. It was like He picked me up, turned me over and started shaking me and over the past three years or so, He shook out a lot of stuff that for years had been holding me back and weighting me down. I even thought about a recent message Vicky delivered about being enough. After all of that, I can honestly say that I am Ok where I am right now with the bible. OK, but by no means satisfied.
Though being enough is good for now, I know it's not good forever. And that is what I hope this message conveys to any of you that might feel like I do sometimes about the bible. It's OK if we don't know what Peter or Paul's names were before they were changed, or how many loaves or fish, or Jesus' hometown, or how many books are in the bible, or what books are in the Old and New Testaments, etc.
What's important is that we're in the word. At first, maybe occasionally, then over time, more regularly and eventually and hopefully, on a daily basis.
What's important is that we're allowing the word of God into our heart, soul and lives. Allowing it to wash over us and run through us. We might not remember everything, but does the spirit of the message affect how we live our lives, how we treat and serve others and how we honor God? I believe that's what's important.
Whether we can quote chapter and verse, or explain various parables, should be the least of our worries, especially if you're just coming to the word. Do we hope that as we read more, we will learn more, remember more and be more well rounded regarding our bible knowledge?
I sure hope that's what we're all striving for, but until then, we need to quit being so hard on ourselves. Feelings of ineptitude, or lack of "bible smarts" can keep people away from the book. I should know, because for most of my life, I didn't read because "I didn't get it", or "it just didn't do anything for me." Trust me, that isn't what God wants.
We shouldn't worry about how little we know and how much it seems like everyone else knows. In time and with God's guidance, it will come. Just like everything else in life, we can't be perfect with our bible knowledge and reading, but I have found that the more I pray for God's guidance prior to reading the bible, the more I get out of it.
So take a minute, or a few minutes and talk to God before you read. Ask Him to reveal to you what it is He wants you to see and hear prior to reading. Ask Him how He wants you to apply His word to your life and how He wants you to use it to further His kingdom and spread the gospel. Or find the prayer words that work best for you.
Then as you read, allow His words to come into your heart and soul and truly listen to their message. Speaking from experience, it will make a difference. When you can feel God's presence with you as you're reading, it can be an extremely liberating and inspirational moment. It's almost like He's sitting right next to you, turning the pages for you. We can't do it alone, this includes reading the bible, but anything can be done with and through God. As Matthew 19:26 says," with God, all things are possible."
I received various responses regarding my previous post. After digesting that info, I have come to the conclusion that changes will be necessary if we are to alter the direction in which our church has been headed over the past 10-20 years.
Not only to survive, but more importantly, to grow and be the church God wants us to be and expects us to be.
So what are some things we can do? Let's consider a few questions and then maybe look at some possible solutions.
It's not just about getting people to come, it's about getting them to stay. If we make them feel like they are a part of our church family, the hope is that they too will become an active and participating member, serving others like those that served them when they first arrived.
I have been going to Girard First since 1986 and my first memory of the people was how friendly and welcoming they were. It was almost mind boggling, especially since I came from a much larger church where I didn't experience that. I think we are still great at welcoming others; however, we have become much better at following up, which is just as important.
Let your light so shine before all, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matt 5:16
By allowing our inner light to shine brightly, I believe that there is no way we can't be a reflection of Jesus. The humble selfless servant, that allows others to see their good works, not for their own benefit or recognition, but to glorify God, will always be a beacon of light to all. And when we serve selflessly, as Jesus did, then there is no way that we won't be a reflection of Him.
Are we accepting of all, with ALL being the key word? I recently heard something at Monday night bible study regarding acceptance. It came from a lesbian women who never felt accepted by Christians. Then one day she became friends with a minister who disagreed with most of her thoughts and beliefs, but still was able to convey love towards her. It was a beautiful story and much too long to tell; however, I want to provide the condensed version of what she said. It went something like this, "there's a difference between acceptance and approval". Meaning, the minister may not have approved of her lifestyle, or some of her ideals, but he was still accepting of her. It's easy to share our faith with others like us, those we know and love, who look, sound and talk like us, but what about those not like us? Those are the people we must attract to our church as well. Just as Jesus came not to judge, but to serve all, so should we.
God sent His Son into this world not to
judge the world, but to save the world through Him. John 3:17
For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others. Mark 10:45
Do we as a church read the word, live the word and spread the word? Now that's a challenging trifecta, isn't it? There was no caveat or disclaimer when Jesus said to go make disciples!! We must continue as individuals and as a congregation to be in the word. Not just reading it, but listening to it, understanding it and applying it to our lives. And in doing so, our lives will be changed. And then it is our responsibility to extend the word to others, spreading that good news to all. God's word is truly a gift and once you or I have received it, we must share it. I am excited about the newly ignited focus on the bible at GUMC. In just a few short months, we have seen two new bible based groups form, a bible for beginners class, the Monday night group digging even deeper and the Asbury class continuing to grow stronger in the word. As a church and as individuals, we must always continue to stay focused on God's word, which is truly a living, breathing, life guiding instrument.
What do you think we need to do to attract the younger generation to GUMC and then keep them coming back? The answer to this question, and many others you may have, will be addressed at a congregation wide meeting on Monday, April 6 at 7:00 PM in the sanctuary. If you want to have your say on where we are headed and be a part of the exciting and positive direction I believe our church is moving towards, then please come to this meeting. It is your chance to see what is tentatively planned, make any suggestions and voice your concerns.
Finally, why are we here? I have asked that question of myself and I'm sure many of you have as well. Usually that question is applied to life in general; however, for the moment, I want to apply it solely to our church. So let me rephrase the question.
Why are we here at GUMC? A few months ago I attended a workshop and the leader was talking about faltering churches. He said someone made this comment to him regarding the life of his church, "I need it to be around long enough to marry me and bury me." How sad is that and how self-serving. Could you imagine if all those wonderful people before us and the current elders of our church thought like that?
So I ask again, why are we here at GUMC? I believe the most pressing reason we are here at GUMC is to continue to allow it to do God's work, as well as honor those that came before us and leave a legacy behind that will enable our children and grandchildren to enjoy all the same benefits that the church provided to us. However, if our church is to be a true instrument of God, serving Him in all the ways He instructs, then we must eventually go even further.
I believe we will never be the church He truly wants us to be if we don't extend our reach outside of our church walls and outside of our own circle of GUMC friends and families. We must make a concerted effort to reach out to our community, to the non-religious and nominally religious. To those that don't look like us, talk like us or sound like us and to those that have strayed from the church for one reason or another. When we can do all of this, then I believe our church will be that beacon of light, brightly shining on all. It will be that place where people know they are welcome, with no requirements and with no judgment. And it will truly be a reflection of Jesus.
I'd like to finish with what might be my favorite discipleship passages.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him? And how are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! Romans 10:13-15
Let's be the church that brings the good news to all!!
Have you thought about the direction of our church lately? Have you thought about where our church has been headed over the past 10-20 years? Have you thought about where it will be in 2025 or 2035? And finally, are you good with the status quo? Do you think if we stand pat as a church, keep doing what we've been doing the past 20 years or so, we will survive, grow, be able to serve all and do the work of the Lord? Before I say anything else, I have to state that what we're experiencing as a church isn't uncommon. Very few young families,Sunday school almost non-existent (except for Asbury), declining attendance and an aging congregation. In fact, these same issues are being dealt with by many, if not most of the traditional churches in the area and throughout the country.
I believe that if we don't evolve and become more open to the things that will attract the younger people and families with young children, we will not survive. I say that not because I am an expert in this field, far from it, but because I see all the churches in our area that have closed over the years, with all denominations affected.
Does evolving mean we forget about the long time members and those who have been serving the church for 20, 30 even 50 or more years and focus only on the new people? Absolutely not!! I believe that would be a fatal mistake. If it wasn't for them, the church wouldn't be here right now. Those are the people that have so much to offer and we need them to provide guidance, strength and their years of experience to help us move forward and to bring along the new people. That is part of being a true disciple of Christ.
Are we as a congregation willing to stand pat? Are we satisfied with the direction our church has been heading the past 10-20 years? If we are, I believe we won't make it another 20 years max at that pace, or we'll be a shell of what we used to be. If you have any suggestions, offer them. If you have any questions, ask them, but don't stand by and criticize just because you don't like something. Get involved. Be a part of what's happening in our church. Don't stand on the outside, being divisive, get in the mix and be a cohesive member. In the end, we all have to do this together.
We not only owe it to ourselves, but to the many who came before us here at GUMC and those who are coming up behind us, especially our children and grandchildren. And by children, I mean not only our biological children, but the children of the church, who are the responsibility of us all!! Think about all the great friendships you've developed in our church. Life long, forever friendships. What an amazing blessing we have been to each other. If you stop and think, I'll bet many of your closest friends are from our church. People you've been friends with 10, 20, 30, even 50 or more years. I know that is definitely true for Wendy and I.
Do you see that opportunity being available to our children and grandchildren? When I look around our church, I don't! And you know why? How many 20 to 30 year old people do you see sitting in our pews that they could become friends with? Most Sundays, very few and on some Sundays, none. That alone should make us all stand up and do whatever is necessary to make this church grow and become vibrant for generations to come, with lots of young families and children, so that our children and grandchildren can have that same opportunity to develop life long friendships.
What are we going to pass on to the next generation? Will it be a strong, vibrant, growing and accepting of all church, with the face of Jesus stamped everywhere, or will it be a church hanging on, just trying to get by and hoping we can make it? It's everyone's choice, not just a select few. Let's work together. We might not always see eye to eye and might not agree on everything, or hardly anything, but I believe we can all agree on a few things. First, through God's grace, we are saved by faith through Christ our savior. And finally, we love this church, we love each other and we want to make GUMC the best that it can be in every way possible. Our time is now, young and old!! Are you ready? The church needs you now more than ever.
My last post spoke to those of us 50 and over, but what about the under 50 crowd and yes, I am including the teens and 20 somethings too. In that same Revival class I referenced in my previous post, there were various other reasons we became "comfortable" in where we were in our Christian lives. The one most pertinent to the under 50 crowd was related to time. And for the under 50's, there doesn't seem to be enough of it. Many of the following were mentioned in class and others I have added; too busy at work, too busy with kids and school stuff, too busy with kids activities like dance, sports and music lessons to name a few, I need weekends to recover after a long work week, Sunday is my golf day, I have to study, I worked and went to school all week, I need some me time and a big Sunday favorite, I like to sleep in. Also, here's one that was heard occasionally from the DiBernardi kids when they were home, I stay out late Saturday night, church starts too early on Sunday. And finally, one I fell back on, I'll have plenty of time for that faith stuff when I get older.
OK, with absolutely no time, or so it seems, for "faith stuff", what do you do? Do you wait until you're older? Trust me, that isn't the answer. Since I'm barely over 50, I feel confident in speaking to this issue and plus, it's fresh enough in my memory that I haven't forgotten.
I'll give you a quick look back into my life from my late teens, right up until 50.
Late teens into my early 20's: lots of going out, nightclubs, working out, various jobs and yes, church on Sunday. I usually devoted "a whole hour" to my faith per week.
Mid 20's to mid 30's: met Wendy (lucky me), got married (again lucky me), four different jobs before I found my place, started a family, worked an outrageous number of hours, started coaching and started the craziness of kids' activities. Still attended church regularly, joined Asbury, sang in choir, served on a few committees. Upped my hours devoted to faith to 3 or 4 a week, except in summer, when I was lucky to devote a single hour.
Late 30's to 50: crazy kids schedule, coaching tons of baseball and basketball, still working too much, in fact had two jobs for a while, trying to still stay in shape (wow, it's a lot harder now).
Then in my late 40's, I finally began to allow God into my life daily, which is a story for another day. I know there's lots more in between that I didn't mention over those 30 plus years, but I'm sure all of you can relate to many of these. On a side note, I don't give parenting advice, except when it comes to this, if you have kids, DON'T MISS A THING!! I don't care what you have to do, but don't miss that dance recital, band concert, sporting event, graduation, play, school dance, church activity, or anything else!! You only get one shot at all of those things.
Now back to the time issue. As you can see, my time devoted to my faith over those 30 plus years was less than impressive; however, I was fortunate that the Lord blessed me with enough time in my life so that I finally began to figure it out. So now what?
What does the under 50 crowd do with some of their spare time? Now remember, under 50 also includes teens and 20 somethings. And trust me, the over 50 crowd fits into most of these as well. Let's see, social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and Pinterest to name a few. Games, whether on your phone, tablet or computer, which are too many to mention. And don't forget X-box and Play Station. Binge TV watching from sources like On Demand, Hulu and Netflix. And then there's going out on weekends, eating out (wow, a lot more than I remember when I was growing up), sleeping for what seems like an eternity and hopefully faith related activities. We recently discussed in Asbury the amount of spare time we spent on everything else compared to what we devoted to our faith. The numbers were a wake up call to many of us, myself included. We talked about how if we devoted just a small portion of that time to increasing our faith, what a difference that would make.
So where do you go from here?
1. Try your best to allot some time solely to your faith, whether that be in prayer, in scripture, in service to others and in worship. Looking back at all the stuff you have going on in your lives, that can be a difficult task, but the benefits will far outweigh the sacrifice of time.
2. I can't stress enough the importance of showing your children, if you have them, the importance of faith in their lives. And live a life of faith as an example to them. The earlier you start, the better.
3. Get active in your church, because you are it's future. Find a small group, or maybe even start one, join a bible study, serve on a committee, bring your kids to youth functions and finally, try to attend worship more regularly. If the church is to survive, it will be because of your group. You are the ones that are next in line when all of the elders are gone. Your group has so much to offer, not to mention a lot more energy and younger minds and bodies. Just as the church needs the over 50's to survive, in the end, it needs the under 50's just as much, otherwise, it will cease to exist.
So break out that daily planner or cell phone calendar and allot some extra time for your faith. Speaking from experience, I know it will be of great benefit to you and your family, as well as the church. Not to mention all those that you will have the potential to affect as you become a more active servant of the Lord.
What's wrong with being a comfortable Christian?
At face value, absolutely nothing. I hope we are all comfortable in our faith, in our church and how we live out our faith on a daily basis. At the beginning of the year, the Asbury class did a study titled Revival, by Adam Hamilton. It was extremely enlightening and coincidentally came right in the midst of what I believe was the start of a revival in our church. In his book, he touched on the comfort issue.
He asked some challenging questions that he directed primarily towards people who were between 50 to 80+ years old. The questions weren't easy ones and after asking if we were doing various things, he ended with this: "or are you playing it safe and coasting in the second half of your life?" In other words, are you living the comfortable Christian life?
What is that "second half" of our lives? It could be no more kids in the house, or maybe retirement, or even just scaling back your work load at your job. Whatever that "second half" may be to each of us, the question is a challenging one. Are we playing it safe and coasting? Also, are we steering away from the challenges that are presented to us as Christians? Are we taking it easy, because we've earned it, because we've put our time in, or because we've done our share?
John Wesley described a good death as bearing witness to your faith until the very end. In our class discussion during Revival, we talked about why people wouldn't want to see their church change, or be revived. There were many responses, but the one I want to focus on is related to age. Most of those answers referenced being too old, or getting older. The class went on to elaborate about getting older and it became very self-deprecating. Other responses related to age included, I did my share, I don't want to do too much and I'm just tired. I see those same answers being very relative to living the "comfortable Christian life".
Now I'm sure most of you are familiar with the sayings use it or lose it, or don't leave anything on the table.
So I ask those of us in the 50-80+ age group. Why are we resting? We'll have plenty of time to do that, in fact, an eternity. We need to give it everything we have now. We only have so much time and when our time is done, what will we have left behind?
We as a group have so much to offer and yet the world tells us we should be slowing down. Well in some things that might be true, but when it comes to our faith, it's full speed ahead, or at minimum, a rapid shuffling of the feet.
One of the best lessons I ever gave to the teams I coached for years was this one, whether you play 2 minutes, or 22 minutes, make them the best 2 or 22 you can. If it doesn't work out, it won't be because of lack of effort. The worst thing we as Christians can do is to not give it our all. Complacency, lethargy and listlessness can easily bring down a church and won't do much to increase our faith, or spread the gospel. Jesus speaks to this and refers to it as being lukewarm. "I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Rev 3:15-16). Ouch!! Jesus doesn't pull any punches there, does He?
Now I know we may not move as fast, or think as fast. We probably remember less and lots of things don't work the way they used to, but we all have something to offer when it comes to our faith. So short of a debilitating health issue, let's get out there and make a difference. Get your hands dirty, do the work of the Lord and make a difference right now! And in the end, that difference could last a lifetime. Yes, possibly in yours, but more importantly, in those whose lives you've made a difference.
Up next, the under 50 crowd.
Dave is the Discipleship Czar at Girard 1st. His unofficial title was given because of his love for Christ, and his consistent encouragement for people in their spiritual walk.