Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Series, "Questions all American Christians should be Asking", Sermon 2, "Is There a Future for the United Methodist Church?", John 2:12-22 "

Almost a year ago the various Jurisdictional Conferences from around the United Methodist Church gathered together to elect several new Bishops, to review the performance of current Bishops and to assign or reassign Bishops to serve as Episcopal leaders in the Churches Annual Conferences. Many Annual Conferences, such as my own Detroit Annual Conference, received the assignment of a new Bishop. September 1st of 2012 Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey officially began her ministry as Bishop of the Michigan Area, which includes both the Detroit Annual Conference and the West Michigan Annual Conference. Bishop Deb (as she likes to be called) is a breath of fresh air for many of us who serve the Michigan Area and we are very thankful to have her as our Bishop. I for one look forward to many years of serving the people of the Detroit Annual Conference with her.

I do not envy her or any of our Bishops. I have no desire to be a Bishop, the level of responsibility and pressure they face is enormous and I pray for our Bishops, especially Bishop Deb every single day and three times on Sunday ;). Personally I believe that I have the best job in the world as a local church pastor. I get to serve the people of God by baptizing, marrying, communing and even burying them and their familes. I wouldn't trade my job for any and I am thankful for God's call in my life to serve the people called Methodist. I didn't grow up in the UMC. I grew up pentecostal and while I am forever thankful for the solid biblical foundation I received from people like Otis Buchan and Mike Byrum (both A/G pastors from my childhood), I'm happier as a United Methodist than I have ever been in church.

As a United Methodist I've grown in my faith and understanding of the things of God. I've also become aware of just how political church can be. Our denomination is riddle with various action groups such as the Confessing movement (creating a Methodist confession), the Reconciling movement (Homosexual full inclusion), the Aldersgate Movement (charismatic renewal) and the Good News movement (a more evangelically minded church), and though I value all the theological principals of reconciliation, confession, charismatic renewal, and the furthering the the good news through evangelical means, I've never officially aligned myself with any of these groups. I'm a middle of the road kinda guy. A friend of mine from seminary once said that "the only thing in the middle of the road is yellow lines and dead skunks." Despite the practical truth of this statement, I'm still in the middle and United Methodism with all it's factions, fractions, and fractures has also come to a place in the middle...right in the intersection of two roads, one that leads to the future and a road that leads to death. Despite all the chaos and confusion we ask the question, is there a future for the United Methodist Church? I hope so and I believe so, but only if we confront or denial, reclaim our mission and reconnect our connection. Then and only then will there be a United Methodist Church for our children and our children's children.

United Methodist reacher Lyle Schaller reports that the UMC has declined 30% in the last 40 years. In 1965 1 in every 10 Americans were United Methodist, in 2012 only one in every 32 were. In 1956 the then "Methodist Church" received 850,000 new members. In 2012 we received only 289,000 new members. 43% of the denominations 35,000 congregations did not receive even one new member in 2012. The median age of the UMC is 62 and for those of you who think thats middle age, how many 124 year olds do you know still attending church? It's predicted that in the next 20years 48% of our congregations will close because all of the current membership will be dead. This is the reality we so often deny and recovering and growing again will require us to stop the denial!

Despite the sobering statistics our denominational leaders have faith and believe that we will be ok. As long as we go into survival mode, protect our apportionment paying congregations, our clergy pensions and our beloved general agencies...we will be fine! If this were a business we'd be in crisis mode right now trying to sell off all the assets we can to obtain as much cash on hand as possible. We'd be closing factories, regional headquarters and laying off everyone from line workers to middle managers, but never the CEO's...never the real people responsible! Some people believe that if we just batten down the hatches and protect and insulate the institution we can weather the storm. Some people write books like, "Rekindling the Mainline" which tells us how to fix ourselves or " Are we yet still alive?" A book that attempts to take the pulse of our Denominational Hospice situation. Still none of it seems to be able to stem the tide that is rolling over our movement.

One of the more productive things we've done is create the Path One agency. Which is the church planting wing of our church. General Conference has required that each conference form a New Church Development team that works in conjunction with the Bishop and cabinet to strategically plant new churches through out the conference. Church planting has help and it's worked to get us growing again. For example the General Conference set the goal of planting 650 new churches between 2008-2012. We planted 684 during that time. The average age of members at new church starts is 36. The average attendance at new church starts is 200 and the average membership is less than 100. New Church starts grow at an average of 8.6% annual while the rest of the church declines at about 12-15%. New Church starts have been a fresh and dynamic way for growing our movement again, but it's expensive and time consuming as well, and not as lucrative as existing congregations are.

I believe there is a future for our movement, but it begins by getting past the denial that we'll be ok and that the old system is working. We need fresh expressions of faith and new ways of living out our faith.

There is a future also, if we reclaim our mission. In our passage this week Jesus cleanses the temple. Jesus was never very fond of the temple system and found it to be anti-God, coercive and oppressive instead of liberating and redeeming. We never see Jesus do anything in the temple but trash it and get angry. In fact in this passage he says he's going to destroy it, tearing it down stone by stone. The people of his day did not understand this, especially since it took almost 50 years to build and Jesus says he'll rebuild it in three days. Jesus meant that the Spirit of God was not in a building, but in a community of Faith, a community that he was establishing. Of course the leaders were threatened by all this, but most leaders are threatened by such prophetic visions. John was beheaded, the prophets of old were imprisoned and executed and Jesus himself was murdered. So be carful when you say, "I want to be like Jesus." Our leadership in the UMC is also threatened be the truths of prophetic living and hopes to simply maintain the status quo and survive. The truth is the church will survive, maybe the UMC won't, but the church will. The church has endured the rise and fall of nations, kings, dictators, presidents and era's. For 2000 years it has made it's way through all that history can throw at it and it will be here for the next 2000 years, but the question is, will there be a UMC witness in the church?

Again I say yes, but only with a truly missional vision. John Wesley had a clear vision for the people called Methodist; it was to spread scriptural holiness across the land. Our mission today ought to be the same. The official mission statement of the church is, "To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." If we reclaim these two idea's, scriptural holiness and disciple making we will survive, but if we revert to our goal of institutional survival there will be no UMC 30 years from now.

Finally there will be a future for the UMC if we reconnect our connection. We are connexional church. John Wesley and the founders of American Methodism both agreed that the best way to operate a church was to be connexional. Meaning not independent congregations scattered with little or no collected vision, but a group of congregations committed to the overall vision of the church. Many mainline churches intentionally leave off their denominational name and logo so as to be seen as independent. It's become fairly vogue to be an independent church. Americans are becoming more and more independent and less communal and so our churches are becoming reflections of that change. The independent church pastor is seen as charming and entrepreneurial and appeals to that nature in all Americans. Most of those independent churches close within 10 years of there opening. Truth is there are only a handful of these independent churches that can pull it off like Willow Creek in Chicago and Gateway in South Lake, TX...the rest just fizzle away. Theres a town outside Pittsburg, PA like many other sub-urban towns. In this town there is a street that is like church row, it's called Grace St. On Grace St. there is a PCUSA church, and ELCA church, an Assemblies of God Church, a Baptist Church and of course a UMC church. All the churches have changed their name to include the word "community" in it. There is Life Community Church, Hope Community Church, Abiding Life Community Church, Friendship Community Church and Family Community Church. A resident of this town, seeing all the community churches remarked, "I wish they would say what community they belong to."

Theres nothing wrong with belonging to a denomination. There's nothing wrong with being connexional. The connexional system has worked well for us. There are many churches in rural parts of our nation that would not have a pastor if it weren't for our system of appointing pastors. It's time to re-think the connection though. We need to be finding ways that we can use the connection to help facilitate ministry at the local church level. The connexion needs to be missional, not institutional. The connexion is focused on apportionments and pension payments, on minimum comp and insurance benifits. Apportionment dollars go mostly to the institution instead of to the mission field. We need to use the connexion to reinvest in our local churches so they can help the poor, feed the hungry and evangelize the lost. Then we will see a bright and vibrant future for United Methodism.

John Wesley's great fear was the Methodism would become a lifeless sect. This is unfortunately turning into a self fulfilling prophesy that only we have the power to change. There is a future for United Methodism, but it looks very different from it's past. United Methodism must over come it's divisions, it's entitlements and it's institutionalism in order to reach the future, and we can...with God's help.

Pastor Josh

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Series: "Questions all american Christians should be Asking." Sermon One: "Is there a future without institution?", Mark 12:14-17

We’re just now wrapping up the all-American month of July! More vacations take place in July than any other month of the year.  Of course July is the month we celebrate our independence and the rights and privileges we have as a result of independence. We celebrate America and the countless Americans who, through sweat, blood and tears, made it possible for us to enjoy these rights. Over the next several weeks we will be exploring some very important questions as it relates to our nation and our faith. As Christians who enjoy certain “inalienable rights” we need to be asking certain question about our faith and our nation and where the both are headed. This week we began by asking “what about separation of church and state?” This is a foundational value of our American democracy, but the word’s “separation of church and state” never actually appear in our constitution or bill of rights, though it is obviously implied in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  There you have it, Congress cannot impede our right to worship, however or whomever we choose. What an amazing idea, people being free to worship whatever god, wherever they want and the government cannot stop them.

What’s kind of ironic about this statement is the amazing amount of religion that exists in our nations politics.  No matter how much we try to remove God from our culture, society and political scene, we just can’t. So there’s no prayer in school, well Congress begins ever session with prayer, a prayer said by a Christian Chaplin who is paid for by taxpayer dollars. Several years ago Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Ray Moore, was removed from the bench because he refused to remove a one-ton statue of the Ten Commandments that sate in the hall of the justice building in Birmingham. And yet a 12ft statue of Moses holding those very same Ten Commandments is positioned right outside the US Supreme court building in Washington D.C and the Court! When President George Washington took the oath of President he said as an after thought, “So help me God.” And now every president since him as ended his oath with, “So help me God.”. The president is sworn in by placing his hand on a bible, there are prayers and prayer services at the presidential inauguration, there are scriptures inscribed everywhere in D.C and even our money refers to our “trust” in God. Whether we like it our not, we are a religious people in a religious nation. 90% of Americans believe in God, 85% are Christians, 65% say religion matters everyday, and 40% go to church every Sunday. Yet despite this “religiosity” we still fail to be a people with a dynamic and authentic faith that transforms the society and culture we live in. Instead we allow ourselves to be molded by the culture we live in. Unfortunately the majority of Christians in America practice a civil religion, one of formal state prayers, statues in public places, and the occasional reference to God when bad things happen to our nation. We practice a nominal religion of baptisms, weddings and funerals. All this while the world needs us to be a dynamic and prevailing force for righteousness and holiness in our quickly decaying society! It’s time for the church to move from the institutional to the prophetic!

25 years ago Marlene Wilson wrote a book called, “The Sleeping Giant.” In this book she referred to the church as a slumbering giant that if aroused could change life as we know it, the church has all this untapped potential that if engaged would do what Jesus did, change everything. In 1996 President Bill Clinton signed into law the Welfare Reform Act. Among other things this law made it possible for certain faith organization to receive Federal dollars to deliver social services in under served area’s, like our own Presque Isle County. In 2004 President George W. Bush signed into Law the Faith Based Initiative Act, which furthered the partnership between the Church and the state and perhaps helped blur the lines between separation of church in state even further. Of this act President Bush said that, “It’s time to help unleash the armies of compassion into Americans most needy areas.” Perhaps the partnership between the church and state isn’t so bad. Here are some ways that United Methodist ministries have benefited from both Acts. Networking, Organizing, Advocating for the Health of the Homeless (N.O.A.H.H) is a ministry in Metro Detroit funded in part by the Conference, the United Methodist Union and the Federal Government. This ministry exists to help provide health resources for Detroit’s most vulnerable adult population, the homeless. Cass Community Social Services is another partnership, which provides jobs, food, healthcare and transportation to one of the cities most impoverished populations in one of the cities most dangerous neighborhoods. On a more local level, the Onaway Food Pantry receives federal dollars to help provide food for over 1000 Presque Isle County Residents a month.  All this might sound like the responsibility of the state or a political issue, but it’s not, it’s a prophetic issue. It’s the responsibility of the church to help the most vulnerable in our society and it’s a shame that the church is more interested in spending it’s money on carpet, paint, playground equipment and interactive kiosks than the gospel, so much that we need to take money from the government. It’s time to stop with all the politics, church and else wise, and start praying!

It’s time to move from the political to the prayer. Every General Conference of our Church is packed full of political stuff. We argue about same sex marriages, gay clergy, and immigration and welfare policies.  Forgive me if I’m wrong, but is that really the work of the church? I mean shouldn’t we just follow scripture on these points and make General Conference more about celebrating ministry and facilitating ministry than protesting and politicking?  I want to take a small detour here and share my position on the homosexual issue, since within my denomination and the local church I serve it is a point of serious contention. I support what our Discipline teaches and what the Holy Scriptures teach, “That homosexuality is incompatible with Christian life and ministry.” I however do not accept the party line of either side. I am not willing to affirm all life styles, nor am I willing to exclude any styles. We are called to an uneasy discipleship. Christ included all peoples in the Kingdom of God, whatever life style they embraced, but this does not mean that he affirmed their life styles. If their life style was contrary to the will of God, than he told them to stop and expected them to do so if they were to continue existing in the Kingdom of God. Whatever their situation, their was a place of discipleship for them, and this is ought to be our response as the church and I believe as a denomination this path of uneasy discipleship is our official position.  Now, getting back to the issue at hand. I’ve often wondered what would happen if, as a denomination, we protested less and prayed more. Would we reach more lost people, would we be able to impact more young families with the gospel, would we actually fulfill the mission of the church, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”? There’s a story about a nightclub that sat right next to a United Methodist Church in Flint, MI. The pastor and the church were all very concerned about the nightclub and it’s cliental. So they decided to get together and have a prayer meeting as to what they ought to do about it. The night of the prayer meeting, long after the parishioners had all gone home, the nightclub caught fire and burned to the ground.  The owner of the nightclub decided to suit the church for damages. During the hearing the judge had to decide whether or not to suit would stand and in his decision he noted that, “even though the church did not believe in answered prayer the nightclub owner obviously did.” The suit was thrown out and the nightclub never rebuilt. I have nothing against dancing and having a good time and I certainly don’t believe God burned that nightclub down, but I do believe in answered prayers. If we prayer more, worked more and gave more in faith our nation would be a better place. God is calling the church to a vibrant, dynamic and authentic faith, not one of civility and nominalism. The question we need to answer is, are we going to be a living faith in America, or a civil faith?

In our passage this morning Jesus new the answer to this question when he said, "give to Caesar what is Cesar's and to God what is God's. This kind of statement implies the need to focus on what matters. Jesus lived in a time when the government controlled much of societies life. Jews were closely watched because they were a difficult group to control because of their religious devotion. The Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into saying something that could get him arrested. They asked him about something very political, about the role of institution and civil obedience and his response surprised everyone. Jesus said to pay Rome taxes because the money was there's. Why? Because it had their name on it ;). American Christians often put more clout in being American, than being Christian. Remember we are not of this world, we are resident aliens, our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, not the United States of America. Yes we are Americans and yes we are Christians, but first and foremost we are Christians. It's time we put our faith first. 

So if the money belongs to Caesar, than what belongs to God? Everything, We need to respond this morning by giving everything to God.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Isaiah 9:2-9, "Emanuel: How it is that God is with us." Christmas in July, 2013

This week we are celebrating Christmas in July. We are half way through the year and often we forget all the rich meaning behind the Christmas Story by Febuary. So to help you hold on to that meaning during the year we celebrate the birth of Jesus in July!! Merry Christmas Everyone!!!
During the winter in Northern Michigan, we are very aware of the darkness. Days are short and nights are long and cold. In fact during the winter months Northern Michiganders can experience up to 18 hours of darkness. Many people in communities north of the 45th parallel, like we are, suffer from a form of winter depression called “seasonal affect disorder.” It doesn’t take long for cold winters with only 6-7 hours of daylight to bring us down into the dumps. An extended period of overcast sky or a few days of mostly cloudy skies can prove to be overwhelming for some. Either way living in darkness is difficult and challenging. We may stumble over hazards in our path. We become fearful or apprehensive of who or what might be in the dark...just around the corner or right in front of us. We just don’t know because we just can’t see in the darkness. When I was a little boy I use to get the biggest kick out of sneaking into my sisters room without them knowing I was there…turning the lights off on them. Or who hasn’t, in fun, turned the lights off on a friend in the bathroom. They freak out and yell and even threaten, but we walk away laughing at their dark despair. They know their safe, they no there’s really nothing lurking in the darkness, but still it’s unnerving to be left in the dark…especially with your pants down.
Have you noticed how a problem of any kind seems so much worse at 3:00 a.m. than it does at 3:00 p.m.? That’s because it’s DARK! Darkness seems to hold an ominous power over us, no matter what the circumstances are darkness startles us, it frightens us, and it down right terrifies us. Spiritual darkness is just as frightening. Not having the light of God near us or in us leaves as stranded and vulnerable to whatever dark spiritual forces are lurking. Truthfully the world lives in spiritual darkness. The book of Genesis begins with darkness covering the face of the world. Israel’s Exodus from Egypt begins in the darkness of the Passover. The life of Jesus begins in the darkness of the stable. Advent also begins in darkness: the darkness of “this present age."
If you have ever driven in a snowstorm or through dense fog where visibility is poor, you may have felt much more secure being able to see and follow the taillights of the vehicle in front of you. That vehicle was in essence blazing a trail for you to follow.
Once while attending an intensive course for Seminary at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, it snowed…like it had never snowed before…in Oklahoma and Missouri. It was so bad that the president of the seminary suggested strongly that no one leave until at least the next day, but me being the Michigan born and raised guy that I am said, “What’s this guy know about snow storms?”  So I started out. It wasn’t so bad at first, but the closer I got to Oklahoma the worse it got. It got so bad the state highway patrol closed down the interstate! We, me and the three semi-trucks brave enough to be out, were diverted off the Will Rogers Turnpike and on to so backcountry road. There were moments during that storm I could not see what so ever!!! It was frightening! To make a long story short a normally 8 hour drive was made into a 12 hour drive and was about as close to death driving as I’ve ever been.
The words of Isaiah this morning remind us again that the light, which shines in the darkness, is the Christ Child. The light of Emmanuel, God with us, the incarnate God, is more brilliant than any light we can imagine. Jesus is the light of God's personal invasion into human history. Long ago, the prophet Isaiah gave us clues of the coming righteous ruler, the Messiah. This person wouldn’t be just any earthly king, not just an extraordinary human, but truly God. The prophet Isaiah is preaching to prepare us for the arrival of the light. Isaiah is expressing hope and expectation for the one who is to come, which will blot out darkness and dispel the fears of the world. This ruler will be Wonderful counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting and my favorite, Emanuel…God with us.

Please take a moment to view this short video.

**A social network Xmas:  video

The beauty of this message is that God is with us and God will dispel all the darkness. Emanuel has come and because of him we have seen a great light!
We are living in a world that often seems dark. Long shadows extend across our community, shadows that will loom larger unless we all bring the light of Christ from far and near to dispel the darkness. One small light can pierce the darkness. And Jesus, whose birth we are celebrating, tells us that Christ is the light of the world and that light is in us. Long ago, "God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good" (Genesis 1:3-4). Countless generations later, God spoke again through the prophet Isaiah to say, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16).
The first time God spoke to light up the world, the second time God's Word came to light up our hearts with the promise of a coming king, a Savior. How important it is to have that light within. When we've got it on the inside, our whole world is a brighter place and we carry with us the incarnation of that light when Christ is in our hearts. Bring your light into the dark places of your world. Brighten the corner where you live. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, "Help Wanted", Ordinary 9, 2013

There was a women who was 8 1/2 months pregnant. She was at her last prenatal appointment. This was her first baby and like many women are worried about, or at lest "concerned" about the pain of labor. She asked the Doctor, who was a mother her self, "So whats the pain going to be like?" the Doctor said, "Well, it's hard to tell, it's different for every women." That answer was not sufficient for the young lady so she persisted, "Oh please Doctor, just give me some idea of what it will be like." So the the Doctor told the young lady to grab her bottom lip and to pull it out. She said, "Like this?", the doctor said, "A little further." The young mother to be said, "Like this?" The doctor said, "A bit more." So the women pulled on her lip until it was almost to painful to bare. The doctor said, "Thats good." The women said, "well it hurts, but its no that bad." The Doctor then said, "Now take your lip and stretch it over your head and thats what labor feels like." We are not talking about labor this week, but we are going to talk about laborers.  Those who work and toil and through their sweat, blood and tears, make a living. Instead of talking about manual laborers or day laborers we are talking about God's laborers. God needs workers, in fact God has a great big help wanted sign posted on the gates of the kingdom. God needs laborers to bring in the harvest and it's not easy work.

One of the most fascinating things about Mormon's and Jehovah's Witnesses is their willingness to work. In fact working to serve the Kingdom Hall or the Ward, as their buildings are called, is part of belonging. Everyone has to work and serve, everyone is a Laboer. Both these "denominations" require their members to actively share their faith and they are sent out 2x2. Who hasn't had a Witness or a Mormon on their porch, door step or in their living room at some point in their lives. These "laborers"are committed and disciplined and they win converts all the time. Going door to door is just to vulgar or simple for us mainline protestants, we have more refined ways of sharing our faith, right? When Amanda and I lived in Dallas while in college there was a team of Mormon missionaries who lived in our apartment building. They were young, like us, and very nice and friendly. We would often have them over for dinner to talk, not just about faith, but life. They appreciated that and we appreciated them and their devotion to their faith. They lived together, all four of them, teams of two, committed to the evangelism of the world. They wanted to go to college, get married and have a family, but first things were first, they had to complete their two year mission in service of their church. When I asked them why they were so committed to their mission they said, "It is a command of Christ." That was good enough for me! While living here in Onaway we have been frequented by two ladies who represent Jehovah's Witness. Even though I've told them plenty of times that I'm a Pastor, they still come and they still evangelize and they will until I tell them to never come back or I convert...which neither will ever happen. As annoyed with both of their zeal (the Mormons and the Witnesses) as I am, I'm also very impressed. We Methodist just don't do that, we don't want to seem brash or pushy. We don't want to offend or alienate, but if we really believe that we posse the way to heaven, than maybe we should be pushy, after all the alternative to heaven...well, it's hell.

In our passage this week Jesus appoints 70 or maybe 72 missionaries, there's some confusion within some of the oldest manuscripts, but the exact numbers isn't really that important. Jesus sends these missionaries out 2x2 as what he refers to as, "Lambs amongst the wolves." Sounds like a very dangerous proposition. Jesus instructs them to take the mission into the cities, towns and villages and to bless those who receive them (meaning share the good news)  and to simply leave those who don't (meaning...don't argue). He says, "don't take to much stuff, but only what you need" and that they are representing him and God almighty. Then Jesus goes on to pronounce judgment on the cities of Galilee, towns like Bethesda and Capernium were being placed on notice that they were going to have judgment worse than the gentile cities of to Tyre and Sodom. Not because they rejected Christ, they were more than happy to have him there doing al kinds of great signs and Caperieum became one of Jesus' base cities, but because they refused to repent. They were inthralled with the miracles and signs, but that was it, they didn't repent and it was for repentance that Jesus came to minister. His point was if Sodom had seen these signs, it would have repented, but Capernium still hasn't. Finally the 70 or 72 return and they are thrilled with all the things they have done in Jesus name. Jesus quickly tells them not to be to excited about what they have done, but to be excited that they are saved.

So why does Jesus send out these 70 or 72 as it were? Was it to give them a morale boost? Was it so he could take a break, go on vacation or something like that? No, Jesus sent the 72 out because there was a need, a great need for the gospel to be preached and the the kingdom to be established and no one person can do that on their own...not even Jesus. The need is still that great and maybe it's even greater. What Jesus has to offer, what the church has to proclaim is still what the world needs. The Harvest is still plentiful and the laborers are still few, God still has a big ole "Help Wanted" sign hanging on the gates of the kingdom. Southern Baptist Pastor Jeremy Hanek, who is under 35 says that, "The church is for others, it's for the homeless man on the street, it's for the single mom who can barley make ends meet, it's for the addict who has lost everything to his addiction and it's for the lonely house wife who finds comfort in another man's arms. The church is for the lost, not for the found." My ecclesiology (beliefs about church) are a little different than his, but I agree with him on most of that. I believe the church is for believers, but a major purpose for our existence is to serve and witness to the broken world we live in. It's important for us to reach out to the world and bear witness to the work, love and mission of Jesus Christ.

In America the least "reached"group is young people, ages 18-35. Only about 8% of that age group, in any community, large or small, regularly attends church. One church that has successfully reached out to young adults, especially young men (only about 2% of men 18-35 go to church) is Mars Hill in Seattle, Washington. This church is pastored by the controversial, but effective Mark Driscoll. In 2002 Mark and three of his friends set out to start a church lead by young people for young people. 80% of the people who attend Mars Hill are between 18-35 and 53% of them are men. They do this by providing an atmosphere that young adults like. There is Facebook, Twitter and WiFi in worship and music that is fun and enegetic. How many of you have ever heard of Celebrate Recovery (CR)? CR has become a network of small groups that meet somewhat regularly, but when they meet the majority of the attendees are recovering addicts ages 18-35. Image a place were 400 18-35 years olds have gathered to worship God and to hear His word. Impressive right? The Harvest is still plentiful...if you know where to look.

Lets look at our town. Lets see what the harvest looks like here in Onaway. According to the 2010 Census there are 880 people, 394 house holds and 214 families. 24% of these households have children under 18. Approximately 30% of the the total population is children under 18. 10% is between 18-24, 29% is between 25-44 and the rest is over 45. 46% are males while 54% are females. We have done well reaching and retaining the 30% or so that is over 45, but we have failed to really reach and retain the other 70%. We need to rethink what we are doing as a church and how we reach out to young families and people. The median age of Onaway Assembly of God is 45 the median age of Onaway UMC is 72. Young people and young families are out there, the harvest is still plentiful, we just need to retool so that we can effectively reach them.

When it's all said and done though, no one has the right formula for reaching young people in every community. The results of places like Mars Hill, Resurrection Church and Celebrate Recovery is not replicatable every where. When I googled blogs on church growth I got a half million hits. When I googled books and reaching young families I got over 20,000 hits. Everyone has an answer, but no one really knows the right answer that will work everywhere. We do know that young people are not looking for a religion, but are put off by religion and institutions. We know they (18-35 year olds) want religious dialog not religious dogma, and we know that it's got to be grounded in relationships, which should not be hard for us Christians right? After all we always say, "its not a religion, it's a relationship."

It can be hard to share your faith, it can even be down right scary, but it's one of the main things we need to get use to doing if we are going to grow. Theres a story about a man who was always saying that he will share his faith when he gets the appropriate "go ahead" sign from God. One day while taking a commuter train to work,  a big gruff and burly man sat down next to him. Now there were plenty of open seats, the train car was mostly empty, but this man sat down next to our fella looking for a sign. The burly man began to cry and then sob. Then after a few minutes he began to say that his life was in shambles, that he needed God to save him and then he turned to our fella looking for a sign and said, "won't you tell me how to be saved?" Then the man looking for a sign bowed his head and prayed, "Lord, is this a sign?" That us most the time. The opportunity to share our faith is right in front of us and we simply waste it! Statistically  80% of people who joined a new faith community recently, joined because they were invited to come and visit. Garrison Keillor, the host of NPR's Prairie Home Companion, grew up in a very strict sect of the Plymouth Brethern. Once he got old enough he stopped going to church because he hated it. He swore to never attend church again. One day a friend of his invited him to his Lutheran Church (ELCA). Not wanting to offend his buddy Keillor said yes. After attending off and on for a year he decided to join. All because a friend invited him.

You see, the harvest is still great and unfortunately the workers are still to few. God is still looking for hard working laborers. The pay might not be the best and maybe the benefits aren't always up to par, but you can't be the retirement plan ;). Will you answer God's help wanted sign and "Go and make Disciples?"

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Josh