I considered offering “evangelism” to my new church as the third word to describe our time together, but I figured I should avoid using four-letter words on only my second Sunday. Instead, I used Expansion. I hope that, in the months ahead, we all will be able to:
- Expand our world view;
- Enlarge our hearts to listen tenderly to those with whom we may disagree;
- Expand our understanding of God; and
- Enlarge our family to include people who might not look like us, or speak like us, or even believe like us.
I also believe that part of the reason the session invited me to lead First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan during this time of transition, and part of the reason God brought us together, is that I know a bit about expanding the church.
FPCNC can grow again easily, despite the general decline of mainline churches. This is what I teach at Hartford Seminary and what I do as a church consultant. It is the subject of my last four books, and it has been my own personal experience. Every church I have led during the past 45 years has more than doubled in attendance, giving, and ministry. The key is whether the church is willing to make the changes needed to attract the next generation to follow the Way of Jesus.
To do that, we must realize and affirm that the church doesn’t exist for us; rather, WE are the church and we exist to serve others. Jesus said, “The Human One came not to be served, but to serve.” As the Body of Christ, our reason to exist is to glorify God and serve God’s children.
Now, if you put that to a vote in most churches, it would pass, but the test I offer to congregations about whether it’s true is this:
For whom is your worship designed?
Do we worship the way we like it, or are we trying to attract and nurture those who are spiritually homeless and offer hope to the hopeless?
My favorite story about this is:
A pastor was standing at the church door greeting people when a man and his family approached her. She welcomed him and asked if they were visiting. He said yes, they were church shopping and then mentioned that they were members of a church she knew to be faithful and generous. The man concluded by saying they had decided to visit other churches because they weren’t being fed.
This pastor, who has more courage than me, responded by saying, “Well, if you aren’t being fed, then maybe it is time you took off your bib and put on your apron.”
That is a phrase the people of FPCNC likely will hear again and again. “Take off your bib and put on your apron,” I will say while asking, “Are we feeding ourselves or feeding the spiritually emaciated?”