Some of the best conversations of the week happened during the down times of the week. Over beer and shared meals, pastors learned from each other while reflecting on topics covered in the daily sessions. Today, I drove with a colleague pastor to Miami’s South Beach. It was fun to see the art deco architecture and we enjoyed a good meal together along the beach. It was too cold to swim, but the car was warm, so we drove.
On the dash of the rental car was my GPS unit, a Global Positioning System. The electronic voice named “Samantha” told us how to get where we were going. “In point five miles, turn left on Ocean Drive.” Knowing our location, the onboard computer directed us in our adventure. Always calculating our goal, Samantha’s voice guides us.
There’s no such magical box for the Church. We know a bit about the future we want: we want to get to a point where we are the Church at its best, strong partners of Christ in ministry. We want to be a church of choice for people who wish to be followers of Jesus. We want to be vibrant proclaimers of God’s love and grace, challengers who lift up the call to follow Jesus into the acts of reconciliation for the world. We want to be a restored Church involved in God’s restorative work in the world.
We need to be the Church’s MPS. We need to be Good Shepherd’s mission positioning system. To know how we get to where we want to be we need to begin by describing our current position. A Global Positioning System takes readings from satellites to figure its location. As a church, we need to look to other constellations to help us get a good read on our current bearing.
There are constellations to help us discern our current location: Worship attendance figures, financial data, clarity present or absent about what God calls us to do and more. When we look at these things, we see that we have a ways to go before we are where we want to be.
We are a bit lost in mission: Since 1970 our congregation has lost half its membership. Since 1974, worship attendance has decreased by more than half. Five years ago, our staff included two full time pastors, an almost half time Christian Education Director, a Choir Director, and an Organist, a full time secretary, a full time custodian and a part time financial secretary. Today, to make financial ends meet, we have cut our pastoral staff to one and three quarters, we have eliminated our Christian Education Director, we have cut our secretarial staff. Still, financial concerns cloud our view. When we look at these constellations, these markers of our location, we see that we are not the strong congregation we once were.
Congregations experiencing decline often lose themselves in the fogs of anxiety and fear. As loss is experienced, the community of faith feels the tensions of the losses: conflict, strife, worry and blame cloud the path to recovery. When these fogs settle in and mission is not reclaimed, it is typical for a congregation to lose members, to see times of trouble continue, to experience declines in financial stability.
But we are not lost in these fogs. Perhaps, we are disoriented, maybe even adrift, but we are not alone in our straying. God, in Jesus Christ, comes for all who wander and who feel like they have gone off course. For the bewildered and the perplexed, the disoriented and aimless, God goes to work.
Like a foolish shepherd, God leaves the ninety nine behind and searches like hell for the vulnerable one that abandoned the safety of the fold. Good Shepherd has been found. God is with us. God calls us into ministry.
To find our way, we have to begin to ask anew what God is doing in this world so that we can understand more fully what God calls us, the Church, to be. Only when we know God’s mission will we know more about who and what God calls us to be. God’s mission must again become our mission.
Finding our way will take time and it will take effort. It will take resources and it will take commitment. With imagination and hope, we can do this. In worship and in prayer, we will find our way. I am dedicated to working with you to help us find our way.
To find our way, we must know where we are. Then, we must trust God’s mission to guide us. God’s mission will guide us into the future God hopes for us . May God bless us in the journey. Practice your faith, give generously, and pray for the Church. God will lead us, if and when we are ready to be led.