Glimpses of Grace and Truth... Last Sunday, we discussed that Tom Rainer researched the many churches he’d consulted which, that despite his help, had continued declining until their doors were closed. Rainer researched much like a medical examiner researches a deceased person, in order to learn why it is that, regardless of effort, some churches still died. By titling his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Rainer wants all churches to learn which habits will not only hinder their health and growth, but without correction, will lead to their demise.
Last Sunday, we discussed two habits Rainer found in dying churches. First, these churches too often identify their heroes only in the past. Whether it’s reminiscing about the “good ol’ days,” or recalling how a “great person/program” lead to “great growth back then,” churches that focus too much on the glory days of their past significantly hinder their ministries in the present and future. Second, these churches have tried too hard to meet every person’s preferences. Whether it’s the preferences of younger generations who want everything different or others who want everything the same, trying to meet everyone’s preferences is not only impractical, but opposes Jesus’ teaching to “...deny yourself and follow me.” Citing Rick Warren’s Purpose - Driven Church text, we heard this teaching of Jesus in four words: “It’s Not About You.” By shifting our focus from me (and you), we can more clearly hear what Haggai said to God’s people five centuries before Christ: put God first and the rest of life begins to fall into place. Since making those adjustments is difficult, Haggai offered assurance: “Take courage,” says the Lord, “for I am with you.” If we as 21st Century Churches (and Christians within them), can shift our priorities, we can and will experience a dramatic shift toward health and vitality in our lives, missions and ministries, because we always have hope.
There is a true story about a boy Walter, whose mother was told by her doctor, "Your son will never walk again." While that’s what the doctor saw for Walter, his mother saw more. With determination, she massaged Walter's legs, soaking them in hot compresses until finally he was able to walk and even run. One day after watching high school boys compete in the high jump at a track meet, Walter said, "I want to become the high jump champion in the world." Sound silly? To the world, of course it does. But that’s not how Walter's mother taught him to see himself.
Years passed. Walter competed in high school, then college, even after marrying, he still competed. One day in an indoor track meet, Walter cleared the bar at six feet eleven inches. When the official placed the bar at six feet eleven and a half inches, the crowd recognized it would be a new world record. On his first try at the world record, Walter tipped the bar and it fell to the ground with him. Second attempt, same result. As he stood back for his third and final attempt, however, Walt Davis pictured himself going over the bar. A moment later, he was lying back down on the mat, looking up at the bar still in place. The boy who’d been told he’d never walk became the world high jump champion.
Most of us wouldn’t have seen ourselves as high jump champions, and most of us wouldn’t see potential in a broken-down church. It is vital that we develop a vision larger than what we see, and especially that we remember that the God who’s turned around individuals, communities, and nations has the potential to turn around anyone and anything. Join us Sunday as we worship this God who sees unlimited potential in churches like ours, and people like us.
Sincerely glad to serve this God alongside you: Ed, Lea and the First UMC Family