Let’s examine our own intentions and aspirations, and our own degree of engagement. If, for example, you realize that you are less engaged in the life of the parish than you were at some time in the past, then ask yourself “How am I not being fed, and what will it take to better feed me spiritually?” Be intentional in prayer and self-examination, and then let the leadership of Grace know what will better feed your spirit, what you want, and what you are prepared to do.
Why speak of spiritual feeding when the immediate issue we face is one of financial resources? It’s because giving follows feeding. People who are engaged give. That’s true for existing parish members, and true, as well, for those who we have not yet reached. In all outreach we must consider those who are not fed spiritually now, and how God is calling us to reach them that He made feed them using us.
The sky is not falling. We do have substantial resources. For example, when we faced a similar budget deficit four years ago we then had a significant debt load, and we have now eliminated all operating debt. 2016 is probably a transitional year, one in which we focus on implementing new programs, like Grace Abounds, that are intended to reach out and to grow our base, but one in which effects will not be immediate and will not affect the “bottom line” of parish finances.
So what should you do now?
- Be intentional in prayer. Pray about what God is calling us to do, who He is calling us to be, and what you are called to do about this. This may involve giving financially, but for most it will involve how we give of self in the life of the parish.
- Be intentional in self-examination. How are you fed spiritually? How can you be better fed? What will this require in the life of the parish? Be specific in communicating what you seek, and what you are prepared to do.
- Pray about how we reach those who are not reached now. How does God want to use us to reach those who do not have a relationship with Him in a worshipping community?
- In all prayer and examination focus first on community, on the Body of Christ. Ask God what He wants us to do, and then what He wants you to do.
Be mindful of the contrast between a church member and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not begin a church but a movement, a new identity, a new reality, one in which those who follow Him as His disciples change the world. Consider these contrasts:
Characteristics of being a church member:
- Comfortable: The faith is something which demands little. Members seek the blessings of the Gospel but resist and often refuse to comply with the teachings of Jesus. The “hard sayings” that require amendment of life are lost on those who want a comfortable faith.
- Casual: An approach to faith which lacks intensity. Jesus is Savior, but not Lord. “Bless me, but don’t mess with me.”
- Convenient: God might get squeezed into a busy schedule. Worship is one “priority” among competing priorities. Giving is optional, and only if it is affordable. Compare this to the instruction to “seek first the kingdom of God”.
- Cultural: What is the difference between a church member and the world, in terms of behavior? Is a biblical or a worldly world view held? Is Jesus made comfortable,” as in a person who sinned while on earth?
- Compromise: Witness is compromised. Although a member attends church, his life, values, behaviors, and priorities are essentially secular, carnal and worldly. The world sees very little difference between a church member and the life of the world.
Characteristics of discipleship:
- Surrender: The call to follow Jesus requires that we surrender our will to Him. We pray “... THY will be done, on earth as it is in heaven ...” Disciples recognize and live according to God’s will, bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit.
- Sacrifice: Disciples live sacrificial lives for the sake of the Kingdom and glory of God., living by godly principles even when this involves sacrifice.
- Suffering: Before any disciple was hated by the world, our Lord was. Disciples stand against the world and witness to the truth, recognizing that this can never be done without a price being paid.
- Submission: The heart is yielded to radical obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ. Disciples understand that God’s laws and commandments are designed to bless us. Disciples forsake their own wisdom for the revealed wisdom of God.
- Service: Disciples understand that they are called to a life of service for the glory of God.
Sacrifice–Suffering–Submission? And yet Jesus abides with us that our joy may be complete!
Yours in Christ Jesus,
The Rev. Dr. Karl C. Schaffenburg