What does it mean to be Church today?
This is the question we, as students in Seminary, were constantly asked and wrestling with. The truth conveyed to us was that Church is different today than it was 5, 10, or 20 years ago.
I agree. I believe Church is different. And we are called to be different. For some, this uncharted territory terrifies them. Others just avoid the subject altogether. But, I believe the Church today is in an exciting time. Different doesn't mean bad. It means opportunity.
The reality is people aren't coming to church in waves like they use to. In Linn County alone, nearly 50% of people claim no religious affiliation. Half of our community just isn't going to church, period. We, as the Church, have to take that percentage seriously and not ignore it.
Young people aren't leaving and then coming back once they have children. It's no longer the norm to go to Church. As Church becomes more and more on the fringes of society, are we, as Church, willing to adapt? Or do we want to be the same old church? Do the same things we use to and expect different results?
I hope the answer is no. And I hope this isn't scary. Because, I believe we, as the Church, have an opportunity. To get back to who we were called to be. To claim again our purpose, our mission, our meaning in the world.
I'm not saying that we weren't being those things before. Because, I believe churches were. Instead, what it means is that we claim what our mission, purpose and meaning is NOW. It means having intentional conversations with leaders in our congregations and communities about how we live out our call as Church TODAY. The Church TODAY looks much different than it did 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago. The Church NOW is called to discern what God is up to in our community and to then join with what God is already doing.
I do believe the Church still is relevant and has a TON to offer our world! Our world desperately needs to hear of God's grace and love. Even more than hearing, the world and people need to experience it through us. As the Church. NOW more than ever.
I also believe people long for community and belonging, which I think is one of the Church's biggest strengths. Church isn't a place or building. It's relationships. It's people. It's community. Where we love one another and where we love God together. Where we belong and where we use our combined gifts, skills, and talents to spread joy, love and hope in our community.
As Church, we cling to the grace and love of Jesus as well as live out our purpose to be community/church together. But, for far too long, the Church has forgotten an integral part of what it means to be Church: Missional. We are always a Missional Church. And our Gospel for this week is a great reminder that primary to our identity and to who we are as Church is being Missional.
Our Gospel for this Sunday is Jesus commissioning and sending out the 70 others to proclaim the Kingdom of God (Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20). Jesus doesn't send the 70 out alone. Instead, He sends them out in pairs to proclaim the good news to all neighboring cities and towns. Jesus reminds the 70 that some will receive you, listen and be transformed. Others, Jesus says, will reject you and kick you to the curb. And when the disciples come back, they report of experiencing both: rejection and transformation.
Jesus' ministry and mission isn't just Him doing it. No, He calls the 12 disciples to join in His work. But, Jesus doesn't stop there. His ministry and mission doesn't stop with the 12. No, He invites 70 followers and disciples to join in His work.
Our Gospel teaches and reveals that ALL of us are called to be missional. ALL of us are called to proclaim the good news. ALL of us are called to be focused outward. Jesus wants the WORLD to know of His love and grace.
The world isn't the people already in church. The world is those not yet in church. I had a mentor once tell me that a pastor's job is to spend 50% of his/her time with the people already in church and 50% of his/her time with the people not yet in church yet. That statement has always stuck with me, because I think it constitutes a shift in thinking.
Yes, the Church is grace-centered and about community. But, we, as the Church, need to take it one step further. The Church TODAY is people who know of God's love. They hear and receive God's grace. But, they don't stop there. Church is community who isn't just nurtured by Word & Sacrament. Church is a community of disciples--not members--who respond to the call of being sent into the World to join in God's mission.
That's what it means to be Missional Church. That's the Church the world needs. That's the Church I want to belong to. That's the Church I believe in.
Thank you for all you do in the name of the Risen Lord, Jesus!