I spoke with Larry Moran the other day and he mentioned that he was concerned about the long-term health of the congregation and the future of leadership at FPC. Who would step into leadership when Larry and other members of his generation step aside? This is a common question, especially among long-time members. It’s a good question to ask, but it’s also something of a double-edged sword.
In a positive sense, we always need to be aware of the skills and talents of all of our members. Church leadership can be demanding. We always need to be careful about burnout among our elders and deacons. For that reason, we need to be aware of the many talented individuals in our midst who are able to step into leadership roles. Furthermore, it’s always good to bring new people into leadership—it’s one of the signs of a healthy congregation.
On the other hand, if we spend too much time dwelling on this question, we run the risk of entering into a downward spiral of fear. We obsess over membership; obsession is never healthy. If we spend all of our energy wringing our hands and asking, “How do we get more young families into the church?” then we’re not busy looking for the movement of the Holy Spirit in our congregation or our community. Nor are we looking at the people around us.
Have you noticed the new faces in worship? The new presence in worship? We’ve added nine new members this year. Some of those new members have been with us for years, but nobody asked them to join until this year. Others are brand new to this congregation, and some of them are actually young families. What’s more, we baptized eight children this year!
I served two congregations prior to coming to Freehold, over a period of about three years. In that time, neither congregation added a single new member. Between the two churches, I baptized eight children. What we are seeing right now is remarkable! (All of my clergy friends are jealous!)
Sometimes the movement of the Holy Spirit is difficult to discern. In congregations that haven’t celebrated a baptism or added a new member in years, it’s even more difficult to discern. (That doesn’t mean the Spirit isn’t at work, it just means the people don’t feel it as much.) But clearly, it’s moving here! We can see and feel this in all the baptisms and new members.
Instead of focusing on the ghosts of Christmases past, or Christmases yet to come, we need to focus on Christmas Present, and the people who are with us right now. Here are some truths we must not overlook:
1. FPC Freehold is a witness to God’s love in the world.
2. New members have been welcomed and baptized into this congregation.
3. These new members come from all phases of life, from infants to 80-somethings.
If we are concerned about the future of this congregation—and we should be—then we must direct our love and energy toward the new members of this community. We must build them up in the love that we already share. This will make our newer members more effective witnesses to God’s love in the world. At the same time, it will make all the rest of us more effective witnesses to God’s love in the world. Through that witness, we may reach more people outside of our walls. We make our community stronger tomorrow by making it stronger and kinder and more loving today.
Grace & Peace,