Faithful Friday – June 23rd

Dear Disciple of Christ,

If I were to ask you, what would you say is the “sine qua non” of the Church? That is, what is so essential that if it is not done, we have accomplished nothing? Are you thinking of the “Last Will” of Jesus, the directive (commission) He gave His disciples just before He “left” for the seat at the right hand of the Father? I am. “Go and make disciples.” After years of studying to be a minister, that task (not a job but a calling, the mission, His commission) was clear in my mind.  Pastors and members of all kinds are to be about the mission of making disciples. We are to invite others, welcome them and assimilate them into membership. 

But the focus of “outreach” at Trinity was on German immigration and visitors. When that stopped, the congregation did not “reach out” to their “other” neighbors. It isn’t hard to do that but it does require a conscious decision to invite, welcome and assimilate others (all others). It isn’t hard to do but it is easy to forget to do. Briefly, you pray to be used by Christ in the expansion of His Church (make disciples of ALL nations, as Jesus directed us). Keep your eyes open to watch for the person the Lord brings to you.   Whether it is a family member, neighbors, co-workers or people you meet on the street, disciples seek to reach others, the ones not connected to the body of Christ. As the title of one evangelism program of the past described it, “Each one – reach one.” 

My own approach as a pastor was (and is) never to ask members to do what I won’t do. We pastors are (or should be) on the front line, mentoring our members. After all, we have been trained for years in the how and what of church mission and life. Unless the members go to seminary, the good practices of disciples and church life will be learned when shared by their pastors. If we get it wrong or fail to teach it or do it, the impact will be severe, even deadly.

I don’t ask member to do what I don’t do. We all have an assignment (a mission) and we all need to be constantly about it. As for my work, it began with my landlord. I’ve mentioned how generous he was in giving us a very large apartment – half his house – for a very low cost. He was not only nice about that financial area but all areas of our relationship. He was the only person to greet my wife and I when we arrived from St. Louis with a large moving truck. He helped us unload the truck and fill the apartment when none of our members could help. He was Greek and I began with an expectation he had developed his kindness toward others as a member of a church. But it quickly became clear that he was home on Sundays, before our service and began, during worship and after service. He and his family were not “church goers.” 

So, in a variety of ways, Bill received the invitation to attend my church (the one diagonally across the street from his house). He received that invitation often. But his negative response was continuous and consistent. I tried inviting him to various activities and services (even the holidays that are generally well attended even by those who don’t go the rest of the year). But he was steadfast in his refusal to come. Finally, in a heart to heart conversation with him, I learned why he wouldn’t come to my church (or any church, for that matter). His answer has been a guide for me in my actions and what I encourage members to be aware of when they interact with others (especially visitors who might not know us).

He told the story of his last visit to a church. It was for the baptism of the child of one of his best friends. In fact it began with the friend asking if he could borrow some money from Bill. Bill, my nice landlord, said, Yes,” of course but asked why his friend needed it. According to Bill, the practice in his church (both Bill’s and the friend’s) was that there was a “charge” for a baptism. AND, because Bill’s friend’s child was seriously ill, the “cost” was higher than usual. I am astounded at this practice and can only hope and pray it was only a misunderstanding on Bill’s part. This is not the practice in most Protestant churches (charging for baptisms). But it is not unusual for marriages and sometimes even for funerals. That is not my practice and now you know why. Or at least you will in a moment.

So Bill loaned his friend the needed money, attended the baptism and THAT was the last time Bill entered a church (any church). Our actions can have a tremendous impact on the spiritual lives of other disciples. We pastors, part of the public ministry, must be exceptionally careful not to cause offense. Lay members of churches can cause offense but that can be followed by an offended member attending a different service or church. When we pastors cause the offense, there’s seldom a way to avoid us. We’re in the public eye all the time. That is why there IS a dual standard in the church (one for members and another for public servants). When we mess up, the effect can be devastating for the congregation and sometimes even for a disciple’s connection to any church or the Church (body of Christ). 

It is always one of the hardest things for pastors (me included) to see is a member or visitor leaving because of an offense caused by us. It can come from a failure to welcome or greet others the way we do our best friends at church or an off-hand comment (Really, you’ve not been a Lutheran for your whole life?”) or a look (at a restless baby in a nearby pew) or allowing a person to sit by themselves in the fellowship hall while we (only) greet our friends (it is possible and important to do both!) 

Sadly, for the 6 ½ years I served as pastor there, Bill never attended worship, not even once.  I know he was not rejecting God but he rejected those who were not re-presenting Christ in His body very well. Please take care for the mission of the church and the sake of Christ and ones for whom He died.

Peace in His service,

Pastor Johnson

Scripture Readings for Friday, June 23rd

Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18; Jeremiah 18:18-23; Acts 5:17-26