I have two teenagers in the house now. And they both have birthdays in December. Cally is 18, and now Lucy is beginning her ‘ager’ years at 13 (the photo is when I baptized her a few years ago!).Seeing both my daughters as teenagers give me pause to think about what kind of world they are going to inherit. I also am keenly aware that Matt, at 11, is coming along all to quickly as well.
This upcoming year is an election year. This will mark the beginning of a new president taking us into the next four or eight years. But, there’s also other matters to consider.
One of the things I have learned (re-learned) is that the church has a great capacity to enact change without the government’s involvement. There are numerous occasions in which I’d like our politicians to do more and say less. Yet, the same could be true of churches as well.
This past year has been a good one, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. I’ve done my share of funerals and seen our church family grieve the absence of loved ones. It’s difficult to absorb the loss of friends who have been part of the church for decades. This ongoing season of death and dying can have an adverse impact on the body of Christ. It leaves pastors and people discouraged as they see fewer people sitting in the pew.
When our church engaged in a 40 day period of prayer earlier this year, I asked God to show me and our people what it was He wanted us to do. That season of intercession has concluded, but there are lessons still being learned after that informative time. I pray that these lessons will translate into hopes for a new year.
First of all, the Holy Spirit is still involved in the world. I hope I can tune in to what He is doing all around me. He is not out of ideas and is still creating new ways to influence the world for Christ. I’ve been surprised at the ways that our church has been able to make a positive impact on persons in our community. I would never have imagined that we could get involved in payday loan debt relief and provide a model for other churches in how this could be done. I am so grateful to the credit union across the street from our building for their willingness to work with us on this issue. This is one example of how the church can do more and say less when it comes to improving the lives of the poor and oppressed around us.
I’ve also been thrilled to see the Holy Spirit convict individuals about their need for Christ. It has been rewarding to baptize men and women into the fellowship of believers. There’s nothing more powerful than when an adult comes to Christ. The gospel still makes a difference, and I am thankful to be a small part of that process of transformation.
Second, I am learning to “bloom where I’m planted.” I hope I can focus on doing my best and let the Lord handle the rest. I enjoy cultivating friendships over a period of years, yet know anxiety is just around the corner. Our church, like many others, is an intergenerational community that is continually adjusting to changes brought about by aging and death. This can create a sadness for long time members. However, it’s also exciting to see younger individuals and families find a home among us. We’ll continue to show hospitality and look for creative ways to share Christ.
Sometimes it’s difficult to explain to persons who have been in the church a very long time how the world has changed. This has an impact on the place of the church in the lives of boomers and millennials. Rachel Held Evans described the new normal in this way: “As nearly every denomination in the United States is facing declining membership and waning influence, Christians may need to get used to the idea of measuring our significance by something other than money, fame or power.” I agree with her sentiment. Our effectiveness as the church isn’t always about how many people show up for an hour or two on Sunday. We have to discover more accurate metrics to describe whether or not the church is effective in its work in a 21st century culture.
Finally, I hope I can find balance and stay healthy. I want to keep things in perspective and keep my priorities straight. I may never be the pastor of the largest church, but I can make a difference in the lives of those around me, beginning with those in my own house. This will mean showing concern for others while realizing I can’t fix all the problems that are brought to my attention.
Pete Scazzero stresses the importance of living your own life and not someone else’s. He puts it a better way: “To quit living someone else’s life requires not trying to run other people’s lives. It means not overfunctioning – doing for others what they can and should do for themselves. Controlling the lives of others takes time and energy; it also takes the focus off God’s call for your own life.”
That’s great advice. I hope I can implement that, because it’s not easy to be self-differentiated person. It’s difficult to distinguish between success and faithfulness, and knowing when to let go and allow the Holy Spirit to take care of things. So much of who we are can be tethered to what we do, while this is often reality, it is not always healthy.
Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the Hope of the world. Our value is found in Him. I hope I can be an authentic witness and be part of a church that shares that desire as well. There’s never been a more important time.