Some days I feel like I’m in a ‘time loop’ I have the same conversation over and over again. It begins with someone bemoaning the ever shrinking church population. It often moves on to pining for the ‘good old days’. These ‘good old days were when the church as an institution was respected and a time when people in desperate straits would turn to the church for aid in a time of need. The church is no longer respected in this way and people turn to a myriad of other things instead of calling on the church. The conversation begs for an answer to how we can turn back the clock, but that ship has sailed. The days of an institutional church attracting seekers have passed.
If that is true, the conversation continues, how are we ever going to ‘fill these empty pews’. People no longer look to institutions for help when they are desperate they look instead to people. They do not want to ‘fill’ our empty pews but are seeking people who may have found an answer to the vicissitudes of life.
The challenge then is not how can we be a better institution but how can we be better people, and then how we can befriend those who may be in desperate need of meaning, purpose and hope, so that we might be sought out.
Ironically, Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost but was only ‘found’ by those who sought him out (the publicans and sinners as opposed to the religious elite). Our mission should not be that different from his (our founder) we should go and seek out relationships. Instead of an institution we are to be people – people of God! As people we seek people and as such we are prepared to give a reason for the hope that lies within us.
Rather than seeing people as potential pew fodder we are called to see people as people. These people sooner or later will find themselves desperately looking for answers. They may not turn to us, but if we are not in relationship we can be assured they never will. Our mission is unlike Jesus’ in that he came not just to seek but to save and salvation is still his unique area. Ours is to seek people! Ours is: to be with people and to care for people, to love people and as we do be ready to answer those vital questions of hope and happiness when they inevitably arise.
Much of my week is spent in being with people. Every week I get the opportunity to answer challenging questions. This week I was asked “How am I supposed to love someone when I hate her guts!” This was a delightfully honest question from someone who really wanted to know the answer. She thoroughly dislikes this person but felt that as a believer she ought not. The answer was not a simple one and can not be easily reduced to fit in this blog. But we had a great chat about love being an action rather than a feeling. I asked how she would treat her ‘friend’ if she did have feelings of love for her, and said “Do that!” We realized that in the end if she ‘did that’ that she would be loving her.
Life as a person is so much more fun and fulfilling than life as a member of an institution. Life lived like this is fraught with all sorts of wonderful opportunities. It is not always easy but then again is anything worthwhile really easy?