Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Setting Up a Date with Jesus

I remember a Synod Assembly I attended several years ago.  The presiding bishop of the ELCA was in attendance, and he was there to keynote as well as preside over the election of a new bishop.  Well I remember his address to the gathered.

In the midst of his address, he asked us to turn to our neighbor and answer the question, "Why should I come to your congregation?"

The lady next to me said, "We are a warm and welcoming congregation who will accept you and treat you with kindness." 

I responded, "Our congregation truly cares about our community.  We have been actively involved in ministering to our neighbors by building a house for a needy family, paying electric bills and groceries, and making a difference in people's lives."

When the bishop took the stage again, he said, "Statistics show that 90% of you answered, 'You should come to our church because we are warm and welcoming and friendly.'  Very few of you will talk about anything your church is actually doing to help your community."

Deep within I had a wellspring of pride.  Yeah, our congregation is different.  We are doing it right!

What an ass I was.

Not that being warm and welcoming and friendly isn't important--it is.

Not that doing good things in your community and making a difference isn't important--it is.

But these are not what our congregations should be about.  These are not the things which should set us apart.  Neither is saying, "We are welcoming of all people."  or "We have a great music/youth/Senior Citizen/or what have you program."  or "We get along well with each other." or "We work for peace and justice throughout the world."

These are all fine and dandy, but they are all, and I mean all, focused on trying to get people to like us; to be a part of us; to bolster our congregation's attendance; to make people fall in love with our congregation or our denomination.

As such, they fall far, far short of the reality of the Christian faith.  For a congregation should not try to get people to fall in love with the church.  A pastor should not try to get people to fall in love with him/her.  We should and must work to get people to fall in love with Jesus.

At a recent theological conference, I looked around the room at my colleagues.  I noted how very different we are.  I noted how vastly different our theologies were.  In talking to a higher up in synodical structures, I asked, "If you asked the people in there, 'what is the Gospel?' how many different definitions do you think you would get?"  Her answer, "At least 200."  And we would fight about whose definition is right. 

"Look at us!" I said.  "What person in his right mind would fall in love with us?!"  We who are broken, divided, burned out, tired, floundering along without an identity or a shared understanding of the Gospel.  We who have been caught up in the anxiety of a changing world in which we no longer have a privileged position.  We who wring our hands as worship attendance drops, offerings disappear, and congregations close.  We who are focused on survival; who set goals yet never meet them; who talk about having peace in our hearts yet show forth worry and anxiety. 

We cannot try to get people to like or fall in love with us.  It won't work.  Look at us.

Which is why we must get people to look at Jesus.  We must get people to hear the news of what He has done in reconciling the world unto God.  We must get people to understand the radical nature of the Gospel (more on defining this later)--that God/Jesus died for us while we were still sinners; living the life we were supposed to live and dying the death we deserved. 

What we do takes a back seat to what God has already done through Jesus!  (Oh, all those other things begin happening, but only after what God has done becomes the primary focus and proclamation of the Church!)

All of our worship.  All of our activities.  All of our spending.  All of our programming should be an attempt to get people introduced to Jesus.  Until we make this our primary focus, we will continue to see decline and decay.  For churches do not change people.  Jesus does.

When is the last time you tried to set someone up on a date with Jesus?

If you'd like to know more about Him, just contact me.  I will be more than happy to introduce you.


Unknown said...

Most interesting. Yes how can the Perfect/Divine be revealed through the broken vessels.
If you can forgive the digression, and my propensity for quoting song lyrics, I think Leonard Cohen, (Zen Master and writer of the popular
"Halleluiah") put it quite succinctly, in his song called "Anthem":

"Ring the Bells that still can ring ,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a rack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in...

You can add up the parts,but you wont have the sum,
You can Strike up the march, there is no drum
Every Heart to love will Come, but like a refugee...."

This love of course we did not earn, so we can not boast of it, but we can sure share it. Perhaps in it's best moments, the church is cognizant of this truth and shows the light, revealed to the world through the imperfections and cracks.

But how the heck can you package that message and sell it in this culture?


Kathy Suarez said...

Carl, Luckily I have the answer for you. Just look at Pope Francis. Latest stats say the CC just added 15 million new members. Seems like the Pope is selling and folks are buying.

But seriously, the Pope himself says not to proselytize. He says: "The Church grows by attraction." This is true. Just think back to how you came to Christ. It was probably through the example of a Christian who never said a word about Jesus.

Pastor Kevin's efforts to "Preach the Gospel" are admirable. Thing is, the Gospel can be presented in about a minute: We are sinners. We cannot save ourselves. Jesus died for us. Believe in Jesus and be saved.

What about after the person comes to Christ? This is explained in 1 John 4. John says that God loved us first and we come to him, then we grow in love until our love becomes perfect and casts out all fear. Believing and accepting Christ is Salvation, becoming perfect in love is Sanctification. Salvation opens heaven for us and Sanctification purifies us for Heaven.

Kevin Haug said...


Your question is important and many faceted. There is no magic bullet.

Society has more than a few "common sense" truths it lives by now a days like: truth is relative, truth claims are exclusive, and we need to be inclusive, no one has the authority to interpret a text--particularly a religious text, all religions are equal, I'm okay just the way I am, I am not sinful--sure I may do a few bad things from time to time, but I am not a bad person.

Until we can get behind such things and demonstrate these things to be false, we cannot even begin to get the Gospel into people's hearts and souls. And we certainly cannot approach them as folks who " have it all together."

More and more, I appreciate St. Paul who says, "I chose to know nothing but Christ crucified so that your faith may not rest on human wisdom or knowledge, but on the power of God." If we come across as having it all together-without any sort of humility-people will simply turn us off. We must not be afraid of our weakness and our brokenness. We must show how God meets us there and has begun to work to transform us.

It is a difficult task in the day and age in which we live.

To health!


Kathy Suarez said...

I agree with Pastor Kevin on all points. He is proclaiming the Gospel and Jesus Christ. The issue here is helping the church to grow. That is what I am addressing, and I apologize if I come across as a "Know-it-all."

If you recall from last week's Gospel reading, Jesus was admired for "teaching with authority." Right now, the Protestant Church (including the ELCA) is speaking with many different and often opposing voices. This is why their numbers are plummeting. Just look at the vast difference between what Pastor Kevin teaches and what the ELCA Chicago ("The Vatican") teaches.

There is no authoritative teaching. It's every male and female and transgender pastor for "themselves." Without central authority, the Church can have no unity, and it will collapse. We are seeing this right before our eyes.

Unknown said...

Hmmmmmm, I get the distinct impression that You don't have a clue as
to the point I was making. I t is as if I was talking about apples and
you about oranges.

I do not necessarily equate pulsating, undulating, " PRAISE band"
music, removing the altar and putting in a ROCK AND ROLL Drum SET,
and swelling membership rolls with The MISSION of THE CHURCH..

I do respect my many RC friends including Parish Priests and nuns,
Kathy have you ever been invited inside the Bishop's Residence in a
large RC Diocese, as I have? By golly there have even been occasions
in the past where RC Friends have offered Prayers and had masses said
for me.... NEVER EVER have they TOLD Me that They Would only Pray for
me if I converted to Catholicism I do have great respect and
Reverence for the RC church. My RC friends aren't at all judgmental
of me or critical of any other church or denomination. And quite
frankly in my "one on one" conversations with RC clergy, they were
respectful of the ELCA . What is more some RC Priests privately share
some of my questions about matters of faith.... But don't ever let
anything shake your Blind Faith, and hey "Clergy Sex Scandal be

Do you recall What Jesus did in John's Gospel when the crowds got too
big? He started talking some stuff in Chapter 6:53 about "Truly
Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of The Son of Man and
Drink His Blood, you have No life in you.(54) He who eats my flesh and
drinks my blood has Eternal Life, and I will raise him up on the last
day... (56) He Who EATS MY FLESH and DRINKS MY BLOOD abides in me and
I in him... " Then in verse 60, "Many of his disciples, when they
heard it, said "This is a Hard saying; who Can listen to it? "

Gosh, When I was younger, I was taught that Gambling IS a SIN, and
that this rule even applied to Church sponsored Bingo Games, Read 1
Timothy 6:10 "For the love of money being the root of all Evil, it is
through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and
pierced their Hearts with many Pangs"...

But I guess that some people will look past that and sit at Bingo
tables and wager their pension checks and spend the money they needed
for food and medicine.... That is OK but we dare NOT let women be
ordained, and heavens to Betsy we can't admit to having no Homosexual

I guess it all depends on whose Ox is being Gored...