Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who Would Miss First Christian Church of St. Joseph?

I'm catching up on my blog after a very busy month.  I write the following last month for the newsletter, The Dialogue, of the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.

How does a church measure success? A for-profit business can measure its success according to its profit in a given year. A non-profit entity can measure its success in clients served. Yet, a church can have lots of money and members and still not be a success. Why not? A church’s success is entirely dependent upon its faithfulness to God and its decisions to model itself upon the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. A church can be faithful to God and sacrificial in its love—or not!—no matter its membership or money. Of course, at First Christian Church we work hard to respect different points of view and different under-standings of God’s leadership in our lives, so how do we—in our diversity—come to a common understanding of what it means to be faithful and sacrificial in our love? Here’s one idea.

One way of determining if we as a church are faithful to God and sacrificial in our love is to ask the hypothetical question “If First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO were to close tomor-row, who would miss it?” After all, if we are truly be-ing faithful to God then we would be creating a space where people’s lives are transformed by their experi-ence of God, and if we were being sacrificial in our love, then people both inside and outside the church would know firsthand what it means for a community of people to care for them. If not, \then neither those inside or outside the church would miss First Christian if it closed.

From my perspective as FCC’s minister, I do believe the church would be missed by the members of the church who actually attend and have relationships that matter with other church members. (As for those members who either rarely or never attend or partici-pate, I can only wonder if the church matters to them open or closed.) I also believe that the church would be dearly missed by some more recent members and regular attendees who have experienced a welcome at FCC that they have not known elsewhere. These are folks who have felt excluded or judged at other churches but who have found FCC to be a community that truly welcomes them. I also think the church would be missed by people in the community who at-tend other churches or no church, but who nonetheless appreciate that there is a church like FCC in their town, a church that welcomes all people, values freedom of belief and seeks to care for those who are considered “the least of these” in society.  An acquaintance of mine likes to say, “I’m not a religious person, so I don’t go to church, but if I did, I would go to First Christian.”

In terms of outreach (ministry to the needs of people outside the church), however, I wonder how much FCC would be missed if it closed tomorrow. Our church has played a significant role in past years of getting minis-tries started, such as the Open Door Food Kitchen, Faith in Action and others, however the success of these ministries since their beginnings now means (thankfully) that FCC is only one church among many involved in them. While our contributions of funds and volunteers matter and would surely be missed, other churches would hopefully step in to fill any gaps left by our disappearance.

There is one big exception to this rule when it comes to our outreach ministries, however: Royal Family Kids Camp, our annual ministry to abused and neglected children in our area. Although camp directors Sandy and Ken Hamlin do a great job of drumming up support from other churches and area groups and businesses, the fact remains that if our church did not make RFKC happen each year, it would not happen. In the 19 years that FCC has made a RFKC camp happen in our area (there are al-most 200 other RFKC camps elsewhere), hundreds of children who have experienced difficulties that are hard to comprehend have experienced God’s love in tangible and dramatic ways. If FCC closed tomorrow, RFKC would cease to happen in our area and these children who have experienced the worst that life has to offer simply would not know that there are adults in the world who serve a loving God and seek to care for children rather than abuse them.

This Sunday is RFKC Sunday where we as a church will commission this year’s 34 staff members and celebrate what God has done in the camps of previous years. We will be reminded of the difference our church can make in its community when it chooses to be faithful to God and to love in sacrificial ways. Thankfully First Christian will not close tomorrow. I hope you will come Sunday and see one of the most significant reasons why that is a good thing!

Grace and Peace,

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