I’ve been a little preoccupied of recent and will return to reflecting on the last ten years of ministry since graduating seminary. In the meantime I was thinking earlier today about the theme of risk and the larger church. What would it mean for the church to be a place where risk was a day to day practice in loving our neighbors and in loving the cities for which our churches reside? What if the church were a place where risk takers gathered and pursued new divine possibilities of what it would mean to be examples of mercy in the world and in their own context? Let’s face it there are churches I know that are indeed struggling just to keep their doors open right now. There are churches right now that can’t afford a pastor and there are churches that have begun conversations about the possibilities of closing.
Risk is a dangerous word in the church. It means actually doing something. It means stepping out in faith. It means somehow helping the people in the pews to be able to discern what it would mean to actually move from the pews into the world. How do we who lead help others move from being solely spectators to being participants in the way we convey mercy? Showing mercy isn’t just a one day a week event that happens at 9:00am or 11:00am. To be people of mercy means actually being able to receive God’s gift of mercy.We won’t be able to show mercy if we can’t rest and be still in the mercy that God gives to us on a daily basis. It means then learning how to carry the message of God’s mercy from the pews to those places that are in need of mercy and to those people who have never experienced the gift of mercy. It means learning how to tell our stories. To be people of mercy means the church has to risk showing the world what mercy looks like. Loving a community is an example of showing mercy. I’m not talking about VBS every summer. What I’m talking about is literally setting up shop. What I’m talking about is raising up a group of people from within and helping them move out into the world; women and men making it their mission to pursue relationships daily with those folks who for whatever reasons haven’t experienced God’s mercy.
It means looking for those who have been recipients of the mercy of God as well, who have come from places of brokenness and who can testify to the goodness of God in their lives. It means going to places we’ve never been before. It means talking to people who we don’t usually talk to. It means hanging out with people that maybe don’t look like us or act like us or even think like us. The process of sending is risky. The church as a sent community isn’t really about program anymore. Sure you want the bells and whistles to help in the process of being noticed, but there needs to be a bigger shift and movement toward having the neighborhood matter most to that church on that particular street and in that particular community and how do we help those in our neighborhoods know that they matter to us and to God? We start caring about what God cares about. We start caring about people. People are the mission.
It might not even be about the number of staff you have as a church anymore. It might mean the church has to actually go with only a part-time pastor and a group of folks who don’t mind risking all they have for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of being people of mercy. If anything the church has to move to becoming better at equipping others to being people who are confident in sharing the mercy of God in their lives, with those they live with, work with, and those day to day relationships they have. Jesus commands to go and to love are risky business and if the church is going to become a place of risk it must have a willingness to lay everything on the line. There still might be a little hope for the role of the church not just in the world, but in the communities for which we are called to serve and love if the church is willing to be people of mercy and to be people who are willing to do whatever it takes to make a difference in a persons life. Buildings aren’t the answer. Programs aren’t the answer. Just people who have experienced first hand God’s mercy in their lives and who are willing to go and be agents of mercy in the world.
John 13:34-35 The Message (MSG) 34-35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
Philippians 2:3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. NLT
“The Church is called to undertake its mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel, and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ.” (PCUSA Form Of Government)