As I prepare to re-enter the life of a local church pastor, I have been spending a lot of my study time reflecting on what is absolutely essential for a church to thrive in today’s culture. Having spent nearly five years going to church instead of leading one, I have noticed that a lot of time the calendars are full, but there still seems to be something missing. Churches are programmed but don’t seem to be engaging the people in their pews, much less the people in their communities. I have spent time reading books like Simple Church and Planting Missional Churches to get a handle on what churches are called to do. I have also been looking at the book of Acts and the early church to try to understand why they were so effective in reaching a culture that was hostile to their message of life. In the end it seems that churches are really about connection. They are about helping people connect in three ways. Church should assist people in connecting to Christ; in connecting to community; and in connecting to their divine calling.
You would think that it is obvious that churches should help people connect to Christ. This obvious statement seems to be missed by many of the churches I have visited over the last five years. While there are offerings to become involved in various programs, most of which seem very worthwhile, there never seems to be the opportunity given to begin or restore people’s relationship with Christ. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a “every head bowed, every eye closed,” play Just as I Am fifty times until somebody comes to the altar kind of guy, but providing some sacred space for people to consider their relationship with God should not be too much to ask of a worship service. I have been to services where the name of Jesus was never mentioned and hardly any scripture was read, much less addressed in the sermon. The church’s primary mission is to assist people to move forward on their spiritual journey, and that journey begins with their embracing the crucified one, Jesus.
Equally obvious and often neglected is the church’s responsibility to assist people in connecting to community. A community provides two essential functions in our lives. First it holds us up. When life is too much to bear, when grief overtakes us or the burdens of life cause us to struggle, a real community will rally around us and keep us from being crushed beneath the load. When the challenges of life seem to cause us to abandon what we believe, a community believes for us until we can believe again. A community holds us up.
Not only does a community hold us up, but it also holds us accountable. This is the less popular task of a community. We don’t really like to be held accountable, but a real community will call us out when we are being stupid, it will help shape us into become the disciples God wants us to be. A real church will provide ways for people to become connected to community. There must be clear processes and an active plan to move people from casual acquaintance to community. From simply worshipping together to being actively engaged in groups that fellowship, grow, and engage each other in authentic and transparent relationships.
The last responsibility of the church is to assist people in discovering their divine calling. God has a plan for every believer. God continually calls us to do ministry and to serve. Some, like those servants in Acts, are called to wait tables and serve widows. Others are called to dig wells in Africa, to serve the poor, and to feed the hungry in their neighborhood. The church must not only help connect people to community, but must also connect them with their calling. It is while participating in that divine calling where people get a taste of the life of abundance that Jesus spoke about.
Connecting people to Christ, to community, and to their divine calling is the back to basics challenge for the church. Everything else must be evaluated to determine if it helps in one of these three tasks or if it detracts. The church must determine if busyness is keeping it from fulfilling its mission. It may be time for the church calendar to be wiped clean and to begin again with a clear understanding of its mission of connection.
Gracious God whose calling is clear, help us be servants who help connect people to Christ, to community, and to their divine calling, in the name of the One who lived a life connecting us to You, we pray. Amen.