I know I’ve already said this from the pulpit, but it’s really important, so I’ll say it again from the newsletter: Thank you! Thank you so very much for the way you’ve welcomed me into this community and thank you for the wonderful service of installation that we celebrated on September 16th. That service marked the formal beginning of our relationship together. Truly, I was your pastor the day you elected me—and I was responsible for your care and feeding from the day I went on your payroll—but the service of installation sealed our relationship. We took vows.
I vowed to serve you with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. I promised to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in Word and sacrament, teach faith, and care for the people in my charge. I promised to be active in the government and discipline of the church, serving in the governing bodies of the church, and I promised to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ.
You also took vows: You vowed to accept me as your pastor, chosen by God, through your voice; you chose me to guide you in the way of Jesus Christ. You agreed to encourage me, respect my decisions, and follow as I guide you, as we work together to serve Christ, who alone is the Head of the Church.
This is a really big deal for all of us! And if you’re thinking, “that’s kinda like a wedding,” you’re right! Wedding days are special events; we mark them on calendars, we save the dates, and then we celebrate anniversaries. The wedding ceremony acknowledges the relationship that already exists and it makes it a solemn relationship. And that’s great! It matters.
But what matters more is the day after the wedding. And the day after that. And the year after that. And the year after that, etc. What truly matters is the ongoing relationship.
Where is this relationship going to take us?
I hope it will take all of us to a place of greater faithfulness. I hope it will take us to a place of spiritual and relational growth. But how do we measure spiritual and relational growth? How do we measure success? How long will it take to get there?
Honestly, we’re not very good at measuring the fruits of the Spirit. We’re great at counting the people in our pews and the money in our collection plates—not to mention the rent from our various tenants. And we have great anxiety about the numbers we record. The cold, hard reality is that Freehold Savings, the bank who holds our mortgage, doesn’t really care if we grow in faithfulness or if we’re spiritually alive, so long as our checks don’t bounce. That’s the tension in which we live. We are always aware of the pressures of the world, yet Jesus reminds us to set our minds on divine things, not human things (Mark 8:33).
The measures for growing in faithfulness are subtle. I think the first sign is that worship feels better; we feel more alive on Sunday mornings. Another tangible sign is the growth in relationships among the active members of this congregation. If we are attuned to the movement of the Spirit among us, we will grow closer to one another. For some of you, this might mean making new friends; for others, it might mean reconciling with another member with whom you’ve had a dispute. This is important. This is vital.
If we grow in Spirit and faithfulness, we will shine. It’s likely that the first people to notice this will be members of this congregation who drifted away over the last few years. They may return to our orbit, and when they do, we will rejoice, as the shepherd who found the lost sheep. Likewise, as we build new relationships within this congregation and repair long-standing relationships, we will see more ways to reach out to people outside of our congregation.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Jesus tells the eleven disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” This is called the Great Commission and it’s still our work today; it belongs to all of us. I believe we will do that work more effectively if we invest a little more time and energy focusing on growing in Spirit and faithfulness.
That doesn’t mean we set aside all the wonderful and vital things that we’re already doing. Instead, it’s an opportunity to reflect on all of our current practices. As we examine everything we do, here are some questions we might ask of our various ministries and programs:
· Does this ministry or program feed me and give me life, or does it just make me feel tired?
· Am I excited about this ministry or program, or do I feel like I’m going on auto-pilot?
· How does this ministry or program cause me to grow in faithfulness and Spirit?
· Am I the only one who feels this way, or do other people share my feelings?
These are challenging questions, but discipleship is rarely easy work. As you reflect on these questions, please engage with other members and learn what they think and feel. In particular, engage members of the Session. It’s their job to take the measure of the congregation. Your input will help them do this. Finally, please feel free to reach out to me with your questions and your concerns. Through these conversations, we will collectively clarify the vision of this congregation; we will grow in faithfulness and Spirit; and we will do a better job of living into the Great Commission.
Grace & Peace,