Many of us who lead in congregations have common things we struggle against. One of the more insidious struggles is dealing with those who choose other activities over worship on Sunday mornings. More and more this has become common.
It's not only sporting events (as I confronted in my last couple of posts). There are many, many other things. Weekend get aways dominate some people's lives. There is the desire to escape the daily grind and play as hard during the weekend as one works during the week. There is the thought that in sitting out in nature one can "commune with God" and "be just as spiritual" as if one were sitting in church worshiping. There is the thought that "Sunday is my only day to sleep in and rest," so I don't do anything on Sunday mornings. These are just a few of the things many clergy see happening but feel powerless to confront or change.
My buddy and I talked about this just the other day as we carpooled together heading to a class we both take.
"I really let folks have it in my newsletter article," he said to me.
I understood exactly where he was coming from as he spoke about folks in his congregation who purposely avoided worship on Sunday morning.
"I told them that at worship, we encounter God in the Word and Sacraments. I told them that through worship and hearing that Word, we grow into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. I told them that you don't get such things out in nature or in the ball field or by watching stuff on television at home. I told them that it is through worship; through confession; through hearing sermons; through taking Holy Communion that our faith is made deeper and stronger."
"I agree," I replied, "but you are making an assumption."
"What's that?" my friend asked.
"You are assuming they want to grow in their faith. You are assuming their hearts are oriented toward God and that they want a deeper and stronger relationship with Jesus," I said.
A momentary pause.
"You are right," he said. "I am."
"Take away that assumption and think about how it changes your preaching and what you write in your newsletter," I said.
"That would change things a lot."
Yes. It would, and I told my buddy then that this is where I am at in my ministry now. I have made the assumption for years that everyone who becomes a part of a congregation wants to grow deeper and stronger in their faith. I have made the assumption that their hearts and minds were oriented toward Jesus and that they longed for a deeper sense of God's mercy and grace. I made the assumption I simply needed to remind them of their responsibility to be at worship and to do what Christ calls us to do.
Growing up I was always told not to assume anything because it makes an "ASS" out of "U" and "ME."
What if there are those who indeed want to grow stronger in their faith in Jesus but there are many more whose hearts and minds are not oriented toward God? What if there are indeed those in the church who know that it is in worship that we encounter the living God, but there are just as many others (probably a whole lot more) who do not realize this? How does one go about orienting their hearts toward God? How does one go about changing their minds?
I think I've learned a hard, hard lesson.
You can't. I can't. There is no possible way of bringing such folks around. There is no technique to use. There is no program to initiate. There is no technology which will manage it.
There is only one thing that can orientate a person's heart and mind toward God.
"No one says 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." St. Paul once wrote. (1 Corinthians)
And one comes to belief in Jesus by hearing the Word--the Word of grace--the Word of the gospel. And not the social gospel. Not the prosperity gospel. Not the self-righteousness gospel. Those are not the gospel.
I am speaking of the gospel that St. Paul waxed eloquently on and said, "There is no other gospel!" The gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected.
Only this changes hearts and minds. Only this.
If you wondered why John 3:16-17 (the gospel in a nut shell) has appeared so often in my sermons, now you know. I've changed my assumptions. We'll just see what happens next.