I had a GREAT time at the Sacred Ground conversation group last night as usual. Once again, please know you are invited to join us each Tuesday evening at the Starbucks at Topanga Canyon Blvd and Dumetz Road at 7:00 PM for an evening of wide-open, passionate conversation! One thing did come up in the conversation that I thought would be helpful to share with you.
At one point in the conversation, someone asked the participants why they came to church? They asked the question because some of us were not in a place where the traditional theology offered in mainline churches appealed to them.
The participants then shared some of the reasons they did come to church. One reason that came up more than any other was because of the extraordinary people in the church.
At this point, one of the participants looked over to me and said, “Over the years I’ve realized most pastors have a goal or vision in mind for the congregation. It usually takes a while for us to figure it out. Pastor Craig, would you speed that process up for us and share your vision for us.”
I thought it might be good to share the answer to that question with those of you who weren’t there to hear the response. I do so not because my answer was particularly clever, but because it might be helpful for more folks to know my goal.
I started my answer by referencing the old joke about the person who died and went to heaven and was being shown around his new digs by St. Peter. When they came to one wing, St. Peter leaned over and whispered, “Don’t make a noise as we pass through this wing.” The gentleman asked, “Why not?” “Because this wing is made up of the fundamentalists,” St. Peter explained, “and they like to think they are the only ones up here.”
“What I’ve noticed,” I said after completing the joke, “is that in some progressive communities that same principle applies.” Some progressive folks, for instance, are drawn to church because they want to explore the intellectual aspects of life. Other come because they are passionate about their commitment to issues of peace and justice. Still others come for social reasons.
Sadly, there are folks in each camp who act like the fundamentalists in the joke – they think their reason for coming is the only valid reason. If they come to church for the intellectual stimulation, for instance, they then insist the church then establish an identity primarily as an intellectual community. Others who are driven by a passion for peace and justice counter by insisting the church be known primarily as a peace and justice church. Still others who come for social reasons then insist the church primarily be known as a social center.
My goal as the pastor then is to throw open each group’s doors and let them first recognize the existence (and needs) of the other groups, and then eventually help them come to the point where they can celebrate (and not be threatened by) the presence of the other groups.
Whatever it is that draws you into spiritual community is okay. No matter what initially draws you to church, however, my goal is to use that attraction to draw you into a deeper experience of God.
This means if the intellect was the reason you first showed up, engage your intellect: but use that intellect to deepen your experience of God. If you showed up because of justice and peace issues, that’s great! Just make sure to use your pursuit of justice and peace to enrich your experience of God. And if you showed up because you enjoy the company with others, that’s okay too. Just allow yourself to arrive at a deeper experience of God through the blessings of these life-giving relationships. While there would be dozens of different reasons as to why folks come to church, there would be one primary goal: that each person have a deeper experience of God while they are participating in the life of church.
So there you have the goal or vision of my ministry spelled out in pretty straight forward terms. I hope it helps. My fervent prayer is that each of us will use that initial interest/passion that drew us into spiritual community to grow deeper in our experience of God.
Til next time…