Thom: Last weekend most people in America avoided church. And, a sizable portion of those who did make it to church wished they were somewhere else. But why?
I decided to go direct to the source. I staked out a city park to ask the public why they weren't in church. What they told me echoed what I've been hearing for several years now.
Their reasons centered around four recurring themes:
1. [Sheri LaRoche:] "Church people judge me." A young woman told me that as a child she regularly attended church and Sunday school. But she's given up on the church as an adult. "They make me feel like an outcast," she said. "How? Why?" I asked. "Well, I'm a smoker," she said.
I personally do not know anyone in our church that has made people feel like an outcast because they smoked. We may find other reasons to shun someone who has a drug or alcohol problem, or who doesn't meet our standards of cleanliness because we don't understand their circumstances. If we don't live in those circumstance, we can't possible know its devastation. But unfortunately being judgmental is out there everywhere we turn.
Many times WE are judged, misunderstood, and it's not a happy place to be. To avoid this, we need to become more compassionate, forgiving and understanding. And maybe our actions will cause others to change.
2. [Chuck Carey:] "I don't want to be lectured." More people today want to participate in the discussion. A man told me he's talked with over a thousand other men who've given up on church. He said, "Guys don't want to sit in a room and idly listen to some preacher do all the talking. They want to ask questions. They want to share their thoughts too."
Our ministry finds that to be true at Agape Café on Sunday mornings. Now that our guests have learned to trust us, they want to be part of the conversations and feedback. It's amazing, as well as sad, to hear them share their journeys, and their dreams.
When Pastor Terry Van Hook was here, we learned from several workshops about a new non-threatening concept appearing in many churches. Pews and a pulpit were replaced with groups of people, tables and chairs and a coffee bar; you could get up anytime you wanted, go outside for a break, a more relaxed atmosphere. There was no preaching, but the scriptures were the main lesson how it applied to everyday life – then stories and comments were shared. These churches are still thriving.
One Lutheran church even named their Church service "Holy Coffee Grounds".
Donna Daniels and I learned at a recent gathering of the Lay Academy that many who attend regular church or coffee house type church choose to use twitter to feed back immediately to the pastor; to use their laptops to take notes as well as look up scripture and other ideas about the sermon.
Some would say "they're not paying attention." However, that is just the way some people learn and receive the information – it's just a different model and will one day be the norm. I remember when Joseph LaRoche did a Children's Moment right from his cell phone. It was a GMAIL email from God to the children.
3. [Donna Daniels:] "They're a bunch of hypocrites." I know church leaders are weary of this "excuse." But people aren't merely referring to incongruous behavior. What bothers them is the sense that church spokespeople act like they have all the answers. That they've arrived. That they're only interested in telling others what to do—"teaching," to use the church vernacular.
I prefer to see a nurturing aspect—Sharing stories, journeys, and testimonies how God has blessed each of us—In our lives, in the trials we face, in lives of others we touch. A testimonial of a blessed success or change is not "tooting our own horn"; rather it is sharing how God has blessed us with the love to unselfishly have an effect on someone else's life. ACTIONS DO SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS!!! We don't want to force our beliefs down the throats of others, but gently shared blessings, the way we treat all humankind and how we act bespeaks very loudly without having to say very much.
We may have been in church all our lives or for a short period of time, but we are constantly learning about God, ourselves and that relationship. As my friend, Ernesto Mendivil, says, he is just a baby Christian. He needs encouragement and nurture.
We all change through each day we experience life. If we didn't, life would be very boring. I love the concept behind these words. No matter our age, no matter our physical condition, no matter our strengths or gifts, God is NOT finished with us until he calls us home.
4. [Joe Manson:] "I don't want religion. I want God." Most people don't experience God at church. They're not looking for the "deep" theological trivia that seems to interest some preachers. They crave something very simple. They're dying to be reassured that God is real, that he is more than a historical figure, that he is present today, and that he is active in the lives of people around them.
Those of us who remain in this imperfect gathering of the faithful need to stop talking and "teaching" long enough to listen to the majority outside our walls. I'm not suggesting their views are flawless. Or that we should design ministry merely according to consumer whims. But we do need to keep our ultimate goal in mind-to help bring others into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
That's what defined the ministry of Jesus himself. He boldly broke away from the habits and routines of the religious elite of the time. And he fashioned a highly relational ministry that connected with the disenfranchised.—Thom Shultz
Studies show that there are many who will form a Bible Study or worship time at their place of employment on their lunch hour or before or after work. This affords people the chance to discuss religious and spiritual values without the preaching. This activity reaches out to others in a much needed way. How do we provide that same opportunity that involves our church?
Richard Shea had a dream to take our class, "Healing Body, Mind and Spirit", into the homes of others. What a wonderful opportunity to share God's message of Healing and Love. We have already done that with our friend Fern McCallum and hopefully next week with another church member.
Another suggestion is to become proactive in our community. Some people have come to our church because of a program like Second Harvest or Hot Meals and we are known in the community for those services.
Our Agape Café is looking to work with other churches, ministries and corporations at a piece of property down the street. For all intents and purposes, this property could become a home for those living on the street. Here they would find a place to sleep in a bed, protected from the elements of weather; a safe place to rest from fear of having your personal belongings stolen—a hot breakfast, a sack lunch and a hot dinner, every day—a place to wash their clothing, to take a shower and to feel human instead of downtrodden and hopeless. There would also be commitments—helping to take care of the property and house area, taking turns cooking meals, mowing lawns and watering gardens, cleaning bathrooms, etc. And yes there would be security, and drug testing when you least expect it. If they want to be a part of the benefits, they have to have a commitment.
When those in the community see what we are doing and they want to become a part of that process, THEY WILL COME.
It can make a dramatic impact on their lives, for everyone benefits, and God's Amazing Grace succeeds.
How do we combat the four areas of concern? How do we become the Hands and Feet of Christ. As Jan Oehrke pointed out in her message last week, it begins with learning to have trust—Trust in each other, but ultimately trust in God to lead us if we will follow. As we go forward into our Renewal Retreat time, let us each look at how we can feed our hearts, our souls, our very being by participation in this experience. It's personal. We may each form a different relationship with God or a different relationship with others. Are you ready for a more blessed relationship with God. Some would ask "How can it get any better that what I already have?" SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND.
We may find that we forgive someone else, some action or ask for forgiveness for some sin We may experience that we are given forgiveness in this renewal or discover new challenges—new blessings that God wants to pour down on us as one of His children, as His church—the possibilities are limitless, if we just come seeking God's blessings.
THEN—let us find a way to step outside our own walls and open ourselves to a new journey as the hands and feet of Christ. Pray that God shows us how to break down walls so judgment is not shared as part of our character; to show and share rather than lecture; to nurture and guide like God does for us when we open ourselves. Others will open up to us. Will this be our way to bring the un-churched to a new place in their lives? Can we do it???? Let us share God's blessings and His Promise in Christ Jesus. Let us share the example of Christ as he broke down barriers with the least and the lonely; taught and nurtured sinners; gave forgiveness to those who repented.
There may be mistakes, there may be hurt feelings, there may be unrest because we all know WHAT will test us when we least expect it and try to bring us down in doing God's work.
AND THAT IS??? SATAN
Let us give unselfishly, unconditionally; without judgment; sharing the Grace and Agape Love given to us by God. Everything we do should be done for God's Glory, not our own. Everything we have is by God's Grace. Let us be blessed and be a blessing.
What will this church look like next year, in 5 years, in 10 years - IS it up to us?
HOW MANY of you say that "IT IS UP TO US."
Let's show our Pastor that we are willing to work to build this church however we need to do it. Attend the Renewal Retreat, be energized, renewed and continue your relationship in a new fresh way with God.
We need to adopt a positive attitude for all of us
and to say to all:
You're welcome just as you are.
Your thoughts are welcome.
Your doubts are welcome.
We're all in this together.
God is here, ready to connect with each of us
in a fresh new way.
Remember: No matter our age, no matter our physical condition, no matter our strengths or gifts, God is NOT finished with us—any of us—until HE calls us home.
The song you will hear in just a few seconds is called Our God's Alive by Andy Cherry. It speaks to the fact that WE ARE ALL ALIVE and still able to work for Gods' kingdom because of the gift of Jesus Christ who cleared the way for our salvation by His Birth, Death and Resurrection. By His example He defined how God wants us to act, and work and praise. Jesus is our role model.
Let's arise as a church, with the fire and passion I know we still have deep inside us. We built this church over 55 years ago. We have seen congregations come and go, But WE ARE STILL HERE. We CAN make a difference, each one of us, some in quiet ways, some in prayer, and some with strength to pick a task and run the course with the support of others. Not one of us can do it alone. Let US be the Hands and Feet of Christ and carry on His work in our Church and Community.
As we gather to join hands, hold each other tightly and dedicate ourselves to ministry together for God's glory please remember these words from Saint Teresa of Ávila:
"Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. YOURS are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; YOURS are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and YOURS are the hands with which He is to bless us now."