From 2010 to 2014 I served three small United Methodist Church in Central Michigan. During that time, applying the principle “It’s not about you” became the dividing line between spiritual maturity and immaturity. Many in the parish I was serving had been going to church and participating in church activities most of their lives. They were walking as Christians, looking the part, doing all the appropriate stuff but still considerably immature.
One of the congregations I served was very small, only 14 people on a good Sunday. This congregation was comprised of mostly older and retired individuals and consequently volunteerism was almost non-existent. But they always “bellied-up” when the heat bill was due or the apportionments for the church conference were past due, but usually with a self-interested heart. The overall attitude of this church was one of complacency and self-preservation. There was essentially no outreach whatsoever at the church. The church building while beautiful was slowly deteriorating and approaching an unsafe status, but the coffee fellowship was always an integral part of their Sunday morning rituals of gathering in the sanctuary and then communing in the basement for coffee and snacks.
The congregation was small and financially struggling but they didn’t want to lose the church building and fellowship that they had enjoyed for years. It really didn’t make any difference if they weren’t promoting Jesus to the community or inviting others to know Christ, what was important was their own comfort and traditions.
I once had a pastor tell me that his small church was dying. He said there was usually around 13-15 people there on Sunday but the day would come when they could no longer afford to keep the doors open. What a shame! But this pastor was very comfortable with the slow death of this church. “If all I do is minister to these few while they slowly die, that’s OK.” It didn’t make any difference that the church wasn’t growing. It didn’t make any difference if new people were coming to faith, what was important was that they had their traditions in place, it was comfortable and it remained all about what they wanted .. not Jesus. My heart sank and I told him “what a shame!?”
Somehow, I don’t think that God is honored when a congregation focuses on keeping the doors open and not the mission Jesus left us with. In Matthew Jesus spells it out.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19″Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Jesus doesn’t tell us to keep the fires burning and He doesn’t say to keep the coffee pot on. Jesus instructs us to “lose” ourselves in obedient service to Him. “GO” He says and tell someone. Unfortunately for many congregations you can’t do that when you use your resources keeping yourself comfortable and self-serving traditions in place! GO! To ignore the call of Christ upon your own life, or the life of the church, is to sin against God and to dishonor Christ’ command. After all, the Great Commission isn’t the Great Suggestion, it’s a command to action! He doesn’t say “let’s have blueberry muffins next week,” He says to feed someone in need, shelter the homeless, clothe the needy, comfort the sick, write to an inmate and visit the destitute all to be done in His name.
Jesus basically said to give of ourselves not to accumulate for ourselves. “How about Panera muffins next week?”