Thursday, April 23, 2009

Can they see Jesus?

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus."

Some Gentiles (“Greeks”) travel to Jerusalem, probably because they believe in God. Their request “to see Jesus” is conveyed to him by Andrew and Philip, the two disciples with Greek names. Interestingly they were the first disciples who brought Jews to Jesus. Andrew brought his brother Peter (John 1:42) and Philip brought his friend Nathanael (John 1:45). It is important to keep in mind that the desire of these people to "see" Jesus doesn't mean that they wanted to become followers. They simply wanted to ‘see’ him.

As I thought about this a couple of questions came to mind.

Are our congregations here in the Illawarra places where people can come and "see" Jesus?

Do I, as the pastor, and the people who make up our church community have the skills to show Jesus to those people wishing to "see" him?

Note that in that second question I didn't ask about 'desire' or 'willingness', but 'skills'.

A recent article I read referred to the work of Roy Oswald and Martin Saarinen. In their paper for The Alban Institute entitled Why Some Churches Don't Grow, Oswald and Saarinen made these comments based on research among Lutheran congregations.

The Lutheran Church, like most mainline denominations, works under a broad unwritten assumption that the conversion to personal faith in Jesus Christ has already occurred in people's lives elsewhere and that church growth merely involves assimilating those "already converted" into the ongoing life of the congregation.

Lutheran clergy are trained as nurturers of the faith, rather than as catalysts in any process of spiritual transformation in the lives of individuals.

As a denomination, the Lutheran church is unprepared and ill-equipped to reach out to non-Christians and engage them in a transformational process that leads to an active faith in Jesus Christ. [p. 1]

In the same paper about why churches aren't growing Oswald and Saarinen also had this to say:

... As a research team we were struck by the massive collusion on the part of church leaders and members to deny the reality of the existing conditions within their congregations. Most were unable to perceive that what they considered "closeness" within the congregation would more than likely be perceived as "closed-ness" by outsiders. ...

The term "Lutheran" is more a sign of affiliation than it is a symbol of vision and purpose. Each individual congregation must struggle to form a vision since its denominational identity will not do this. Without exception, the congregations in our study had no active mission or vision for their growth. Their mission was maintaining themselves; their calling limited to serving those already included in their congregation. [p. 1]

“Missing completely was any desire to find out about the spiritual needs of outsiders or to see if their congregation had resources to meet those needs. Also missing was any sort of strategy for reaching the unchurched of their area." [p. 4]

The words are hard and can be discouraging, but it is important that we hear them.If we are going to take up the challenges and opportunities that are before us then we must begin with some honest reflection. Put simply, what they are saying is that as Lutherans we are unskilled in outreach and evangelism. Our strength is in the nurturing process. This ability to nurture is great if we are dealing with people who are born into and growing up in the church, but it is of little help in bringing into the community of faith those who have been born and raised outside of that community. The positive in all this is that 'skills' can be learned if we are willing to take the time as a church to teach them and the people who make up our community of faith are willing to take the time to learn. It is true that in order to reach out to people and “engage them in a transformational process that leads to an active faith in Jesus Christ “ we need to know more about their spiritual needs and develop the resources to meet those needs. It also requires us, as individuals and as the community of faith, to be more deliberate in equipping ourselves for our mission of reaching the people of the Illawarra region with the good news of God’s grace in Jesus, and more deliberate in the actual work of reaching out with the good news of God's grace.

Of course all this leads to an important question...Are we willing?

Are you?

Labels: , ,