Here we are in 2023! Another new year. A time when we break out our new calendars and notice that they are fresh. Nothing has been written on them. We get to transfer the important dates and events of our lives onto them. We can leave some off from last year or add some new ones. It depends on where we are in our lives. It is a great opportunity for starting fresh.
Of course, as Christians, we don't have to wait for a New Year to start again. We can go to God and have Him wipe our slate clean any time we wish. The Bible tells us that God alone can make "all things new." It is a good time to take inventory of our lives. What personality characteristics should I seek to enhance and which ones do I need to let go of. We are reminded that with God all things are possible.
What is true for us as individuals is also true of the Church. What things de we need to let go of and what things should we seek to enhance. To help us determine what those things are it is important to remember why we exist as a church. For purposes of this letter, I will put forth three things I see as critical if a Church is going to be the Church God desires.
First, we exist to gather men, women and children and youth into the Body of Christ. We refer to that as Evangelism or outreach. That is bringing people into our Church. There is a difference between what I will call sponge evangelism and octopus evangelism. For the most part we are pretty good at the sponge type of evangelism, that is soaking up those who walk through the doors. But octopus evangelism is something else. It means reaching, stretching, touching, finding, drawing in those who are in need of the love and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus, and may not even have realized it yet.
Are we at Our Redeemer actively reaching, actively inviting and actively gathering all into the Body of Christ? Churches are not growing because of programs, video screens in worship and other cute packaging, they are growing because their members are actively involved in the worship and ministry of the Church and they are regularly inviting their acquaintances to come to Church with them. Eighty percent of all first-time visitors to a Church come because they had been invited by a friend or neighbor.
Secondly, the Church exists to nurture those gathered together into disciples of Jesus Christ. To allow the Holy Spirit to shape us into the image of Christ given to us in the waters of our baptisms and the hearing of God's Word. It is where we move from the milk of the Gospel into the meet of discipleship. It is what is often referred to as assimilation. Unfortunately, many don't ever move from the gathered stage to the discipled stage. This is a key movement in the Church. It is key because unless we identify our lives with the life that God has called us into, we will never become the person God wants us to be. If we never become the people God wants us to be we can never become the Church God wants us to be.
The third stage is the real purpose the Church exists. This is where the rubber meets the road. We exist to equip those discipled to Christ for mission and ministry. The truth of this statement can be reflected in another way. The Church is the only organization that exists for those who are not here yet. In other words, we are not supposed to be a country club or a cruise ship, existing for the convenience and pleasure of its members. Rather we are to be a rescue boat, finding, saving and nurturing those who are adrift in life without purpose or direction. We are all born with a god shaped hole in us. Many people try to fill that hole with things other than God and their soul can find no rest. We are to connect them to their Creator. Our Creator will then give them purpose and direction.
Let us resolve to make this New Year a year that we are the Church God wants us to be. As individuals and collectively.
Happy New Year everyone.