By Pastor Mark Combs
I shared an article with the church council at our May meeting that was talking about the prayer life of congregations. The article talked about the differences in declining congregations and growing congregations. He went on to discuss how the observance of church related things has changed in the course of his life, specifically in the observance of Lent. He talked about the times of his youth when congregations didn’t have to join with each other to have full pews for Lenten Vesper services.
All of this has been working on me recently, especially as I have been reading obituaries and promotion notices in the newspaper. One of the things about the promotion notices is that people seem to list their associations and memberships. It used to be that in their list, people would list organizations like Rotary, Sertoma, and Lions Club, in addition to listing their church membership. I don’t, however, see the church membership listed any more, even among people who I know belong to a church. I see less and less people in obituaries who list a church affiliation, while at the same time, more and more often I see the statement of no visitation and no services.
It is painfully obvious in our world today that less people have any connection to a church. I saw a statistic recently that said that the current generation, the Millennials, is the most unchurched generation in our country, ever. We know, when we look around on Sunday mornings, how stark the reality is of this truth. The challenge to all of us, who are believers, is to ask ourselves how this happened. In many ways, I think that we in the church have allowed this to happen by our own actions and inactions. Think about how we seem to lament the decline in morals and values in our culture. I hear many people lament the change in our culture of no more prayer in school, but that is a different discussion. For us, who are believers, that should not make a difference. Back to the article I gave to the church council. Pr. Steve Shipman, writing for the Lutheran CORE newsletter says, “Many condemn Madalyn Murray O’Hair for taking prayer out of our schools, but she is not responsible for taking prayer out of our homes, our churches, and our lives.”
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should be militant about standing up for what we believe. We should not, however, be milquetoast either. Somewhere along the way, we have allowed the pressure of society to change our behavior so much, that we don’t talk about our faith. It seems to me that our society allows us to talk about faith, if we are talking about something other than the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. We in Christian circles have allowed this to become the norm, because we have clammed up about our faith. Now, I know there are several reasons for this – we don’t want to make waves with the people around us and make them feel uncomfortable, we don’t want to be perceived as some sort of religious radical, we are concerned about offending whoever it is of another faith or lack of faith, etc.
So the question is, what do we do? I think the first thing we have to do is to change our own ideas of how we are supposed to go about life in this world. I think that we have to change the notion of who has the problem with you or I saying that we are Christians (and all that goes with that statement)! The truth of the matter is that each one of us is called to proclaim our Lord, both by our words and by our actions. We are called to be witnesses of this Good News, and carry the message of God’s salvation to all the world around us!
I know that it can be difficult in the world today. The world seems to have decided that the Good News of God in Christ is not something that should even be allowed to be proclaimed. That is where our opportunity lies. Remember that our mission in the world is to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19 NRSV) I believe that when people really learn about the Good News of God, that great things happen. We don’t have to worry about how those great things happen, but we do need to make sure that we do our part to share the message, and the first part of that is to not be ashamed to say that we believe. I often tell people, when they ask me why God did or didn’t do something, “I am not in management, I am in sales.”
Until next time.
Good luck in the sales force!