I will not forget the words of my late seminary professor Cecil, he would always say: "Your job as pastor is to take care of the church, and taking care of the church is assuring it's health and long life. You do this by bringing in young families. Those are the most important people to a church." I thought then it was a bunch of bull, and I still do. Yes, that is now, has been, and will probably continue to be the way to assure that the church goes on functioning for yet another generation, but it misses the importance of actually being church.
The congregation I work with is undergoing a revisioning process, and it has been hard to stop the talk of "how do we grow the church" within that conversation. I agree we shouldn't just focus on what our church is but on a picture of what it could become in this process, but really transforming the church is different than just growing the church. Cecil is right, if you want to grow a church get focused on your youth, children, and families, but if you want to transform a church, then everyone is involved.
I was talking with one of the children at the church recently and asked the question "What is church here for?" Her answer: "To take care of those who can't take care of themselves." Do to the nature of the conversation we didn't get much deeper than that, but it is true, we are here to be community, to carry one another in a way that is healing and creative. We're not just here to bring other people in, we're here to be part of what goes out and changes the world. We must then focus not on those who can help us, but on helping those who can't help themselves. We are transformed by interacting, and I would hope that we're trying to be transformed into people with a larger vision. That means discovering new things about God, the world around us, and ourselves through relational experiences.
I took a group of youth this summer on their first mission trip. I watched them put together thoughts about inequality, human rights, and God's plan for all creation in ways that I'd never heard before. They connected with people, and then made bigger connections. We so often miss this in our normal church lives. We disconnect what we're up to in a building or through our programs from the bigger picture. Yet I truly believe that the reason it is essential for us to gather together is so that we can be transformed by one another.
This then extends to the church as a whole. If the church is going to be transformed it has to truly interact with the world around it. It can't be just a bubble with programs to draw in, it has to be a living moving creation that goes out and interacts with the world around it. It has to take care of those who are part of it that can't take care of themselves in order to be able to take care of all. It has to visit, it has to love, it has to be with the world, walking with the world and hearing the issues, and then working to help those who hurt, who are unable to help themselves, just as Jesus did.
We are the hands and feet of Christ. If we believe this, believe ourselves to be God's body, we need to be about God's work. Jesus did not worry about washing himself, he served and washed others. It was not about how many people were following him, but about what he could do for those who did. Jesus transformed the world by doing the work of God. The children came to him not because he created an environment that was child friendly, but because children recognize true friendliness and are attracted to it naturally. If we want our churches to be transformed, to continue to be relevant in generations to come, we must act as friends to the world. We must go and do God's work, and trust that God's love and grace is truly as irresistible as we claim it to be.