I’m the pastor of a very small Lutheran church. We have 30 members on the rolls but average around 18 a Sunday which is actually a big deal when compared to what the church was averaging a few years ago. But as you can probably guess such numbers can’t sustain a pastor for all that long. We are quickly running out of money and it’s very scary. I’ve been here for three years, we’ve had new members come and go because of the economic downturn as Colorado is a fairly expensive place to live. Furthermore, Lutheranism is completely foreign to many of the people here. The largest congregation in our valley is a prosperity Gospel congregation. So it’s challenging and of course my immediate thought from a self preservationist perspective is “we just need to get more people and we’ll be fine.” But I’ll admit that makes me uneasy when I really sit down and think about it. Manna is not god, Jesus is. People are not god, Jesus is.
You see I want to grow but there’s also something about growth that makes me uneasy. You see no matter what the church in America says the Gospel of Jesus Christ is hard to swallow. Jesus is very clear about the costs of discipleship and of ruining and destroying our lives for His name’s sake. Going further, the end of John 6 always sits in the back of my pesky mind. That’s when many of Jesus’ disciples leave him because they found his teaching to be too hard. And lest we forget Jesus is killed for speaking and embodying the truth, for standing up to the cultural norms and ways and in effect saying “this is not okay!”. There’s really nothing that makes sense about the Gospel because it is completely antithetical to the ways of the world. And so while I hope for growth and I also feel a certain level of anxiety because growth may not always be a good thing. I don’t want to compromise the Gospel so as to make others comfortable.
To be honest, I’ve always had an aversion to all things pop culture and that comes from my hardcore punk background. And I must confess that this also plays into my mindset as a Christian as well. The culture is always so quick to label something as being good when in reality it lacks substance and heart. I think, we the church, tend to do the same thing as well. Think about how often we look for validation from the culture whether in the form of our support of the state or in our methodical way of trying to be hip so as to convert the “lost”. We substitute the way of Jesus with the way of conventional wisdom. The idea that Jesus is Lord is relegated only to what we do on Sunday mornings or whenever we worship. A truly substantive understanding of Jesus doesn’t seem to be the framework for doing ministry in America and if it is, well, it might not go all that far.
In an effort to better understand the community I serve I checked out the sermons of the big church pastors in our community and in many regards they weren’t biblical. Really, they just preached conventional wisdom with a bunch of bible verses thrown in between. It has caused me to really ponder if that’s even church. Quite honestly it’s scary to me. It’s scary to me because it’s void of Jesus of Nazareth. Instead it’s a good pep talk with Jesus on the side. And yet they’re all growing with their American Gospel at the front and center.
And so like I said I still want to grow but maybe throughout these last three years it’s really been me who’s been dying. The Gospel seems entirely different to me now than when I first started as a pastor. And being faithful to the Gospel is downright ruinous in the eyes of the world. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s ahead, maybe I’ll become a worker-priest, maybe we’ll grow by leaps and bounds. One thing I do know is that our God is faithful and Jesus is Lord. And I honestly do believe God is at work amongst such a small congregation although it may appear to be foolish and unappealing to the eyes of the world. I often recall Bonhoeffer’s words from Life Together – “What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God”.