I grew up going to a large church, at least I think it would have been categorized as a "large church." It wasn't quit a mega church I suppose. It had about 2000 attendees on Sunday morning, with about 8 full-time staff pastors and 4 part time secretaries and one full time administrative assistant (to to the senior past of course). There was also several members of the custodial staff as well as a school with several full-time faculty serving grades k-8. I'm not sure how you categorize it, but it was big. It had an effect youth ministry, children ministry and adult assimilation program. It had great music and preaching, I really loved it. It's where I fell in love with the church, where I was baptized, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues (something I'm conflicted on now, but remains a very important experience in my faith journey). It's where I was called into full-time ministry. Even though I not longer participate in that denomination, I still hold the things I learned and the experiences I had close to my heart and they influence me everyday. Whether it was a mega church, large church or medium church, what really matters is that it was an effective church. It accomplished what a church ought to accomplish, it created a life long disciple who loves God, loves people and serves the church. So was it the size, the programing, the staff, the school (which I attended from 3-7 grade)? Or was it something else?
One of the largest churches in North American United Methodism today is Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, MO. It's pastored by Adam Hamilton, who started the church after graduating from St. Paul School of Theology (where I did the bulk of my M.Div, but graduated from United Theological Seminary), with his family and four other people. He had about 10 people on his first Sunday. Today "The Rez", as it's often referred to, worships close to 16,000 people every Sunday and Pastor Adam is somewhat of a Mainline superstar. UM churches every where look to the Rez and to Pastor Adam for direction, for hope, and for guidance. Pastor Adam is a prolific writer as well. He writes bible studies and other curriculums. He also writes programing to help churches create new ministries or enrich existing ministries. Whats interesting about all his books and curriculums and programs is that he also says, "don't try to be Resurrection, none of this will work everywhere, but everywhere some of these will work." Pastor Adams point is that there is no magical program or curriculum or formula that will ensure that a church grows and is succesful. This goes for any church growth model, of which there are thousands of. Whether you are a big church or a small church, you can be a vital church and you don't have to have the right "program" to make it work.
The problem with so many churches is that we try so many programs, so many models. We take the best from each idea and discard what we don't like. Why? Because we encouraged to do so, "take what works and leave the rest." We do the same with scripture. The problem with this practice is that we end up with schizophrenic churches who have no idea what they're doing our what their identity is. We make church and ministry so complicated. We think that the more the merrier, the more programs, the more bible studies, the more sunday school participants and outreach events we have the better off we are, but the truth is...more stuff, more problems. Our passage this week invites us to a simple way of believing, a simple life of discipleship. Jesus says, "my yoke is easy, my burden is light." He admonishes those who's faith, life and ministry is "heavy laden and burdensome" to let it down and simply follow him. A Rabbi's teaching, his way of discipling was called his yoke. The pharisees had a heavy yoke of complicated laws, rules and expectation that most of the people found burdensome and tiring. So much that many of them gave up and figured that God simply was not for them. Jesus's message is "God is for you and you can be for him." It's a simple teaching that frees people to serve God and each other. The gospel message of Jesus just isn' that complicated! I believe that if the church is to survive and even more important thrive we must simplify our life.
How do we simplify? There is away for all churches to simplify their ministry, therefore simplifying how they reach new and disconnected believers. It starts with CLARITY. Every church, including ours needs to understand and clearly perceive the purpose of being the church and that is simply...MAKING DISCIPLES. And clarifying what kind of Disciples we want to make. For us at the Onaway/Millersburg Charge we want to make
“Disciples that are passionate lovers of God and people,
servants of the Kingdom of God, and connected in vibrant relationships with
This Sunday is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. It's another one of those "Epiphanies" one of which we celebrated last Sunday with the arrival of the Magi. Jesus Baptism was an appearance, a manifestation of God, it also was , like much of Jesus' ministry an example. Jesus was baptized to demonstrate the need for all of us to be baptized, just like the washing of Peters feet and the celebration of Holy Communion, all demonstration by the Rabbi to his followers of a way of life that, "in the way, the truth and the life." The last thing Jesus teaches his followers is what they are to do while they wait for him to come again and that is simple, "Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Thats what we need to be doing, and it's not that complicated. Over the next three weeks we will discover ways, simple ways for making Disciples. Please won't you join me? I also invite you that if you have not yet made a choice to be a disciple of Jesus, now is as good of a time as any. All it takes is a willing heart that says, "Lord Jesus, be Lord of my life." Amen