2 Timothy 1:1-14 From Paul, by the will of God an apostle of Christ Jesus, set to proclaim the promise of life in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dear child: May grace, mercy, and peace from God the Creator and from Jesus Christ our Savior be yours.I thank God, the God of my ancestors—whom I worship with a clear conscience—whenever I remember you in my prayers, as indeed I do constantly, night and day. When I recall your tears, I long to see you again, which would fill me with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois, then in your mother Eunice and now, I'm certain, lives in you. That's why I wanted to remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but rather a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. So don't be ashamed to give your testimony about Christ, and don't be ashamed of me, Christ's prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved and called us to a holy life, not because of anything we have done, but because of God's own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. And it was for this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That's why I'm suffering as I am. Yet, I'm not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and I'm convinced that Jesus Christ is able to guard what I has been entrusted to me until that final day. Take what you have heard me say as a model of sound teaching in faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the rich deposit of faith, with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
Last Friday I went to a workshop for pastors in missional church- where is the church of Christ going, and how we get there. The OT scripture, though depressing, gives a grim but accurate description of many of churches; across the board in mainline denominations. “How lonely is the city that was once full of people. She weeps bitterly… for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate.” People wonder, what has happened to the church of our youth?
Our church is exception to the norm. We are one of the few churches who are growing steadily. But some remember when our church had hundreds each Sunday, with large overflowing youth programs, bible studies, and social outings. Christian churches were the center of the community. In fact, community was centered in churches. The question wasn’t, “Do you go to church,” but rather “Where do you go to church?” Remember?
At the workshop, our instructor Glynis LeBarr opened the session by asking, “how many of you have a blacksmith shop in your town?” With no positive responses, she continued… “in 1900 horse and buggy was the main mode of transportation in the US. It had been for centuries. There were blacksmith shops in every town across the country. By 1940 only a few remained in business. Why? The automobile. In 40 years the standard form of transportation had changed." (paraphrased)
Glynis then related that to the church. 40 years ago, the church was the center of the community. It was the standard for Christianity. It had been for centuries. By 2016 many churches have closed or are near closing, and that number is on the rise. Our churches are going the way of the blacksmith shop. And after drawing a huge church on the blackboard with a circle around it symbolizing community, Glynis drew a line through it- and said, “God himself/herself is now taking down this model of church.” (again, I am paraphrasing)
She let that sentence sink in for a minute. And I was glad she gave us that minute. Because this is not what we usually hear at church seminars. Especially clergy seminars. We usually hear, “it's our responsibility to save the Christian church. It’s our call to revive the church, to get more butts in the seats, to maintain these colossal buildings, and inspire people to give- not just enough to cover the bills, but to do mission on top of it! And if we can’t do that, as clergy we hear, we are failing. We are made to feel, (sometimes even in our own churches) like 'less than.' We get talked about behind our backs, and compared to the pastor down the street, or worse, all the pastors who went before us when the church was in her glory years… and we buy in. We incur the hurt that comes from that kind of talk, and trust me, it hurts. When you are pouring everything you have into something, and you still get negatives- and people talking trash about you and the things you’re trying to do- it hurts- and it gets old.
So, we clergy... try… and try again… and then try something new… and try to retrieve something from the old. But despite our best efforts, nothing much changes. And so we blame society; shifting moral and cultural values, the breakdown of the family, technology, sports on Sunday… its got to be someone’s fault!
So when Glynis said, “God is the one taking down the church,” I could have cried. And not just because she was getting the clergy, or society off the hook. I wanted to cry because I love this model. I love church being the community. I share the the collective memories of hundreds of people on Sunday morning, and overflowing youth programs. I grew up in it. And I knew at that moment, that i need to start grieving it.
But Glynis continued: "There were a few blacksmith shops who remained in business after 1940- the ones who realized that their business wasn’t really about making wheels and horseshoes, but that their business was transportation. They learned to deliver transportation differently- learned how to fix cars, make car parts, and they remained viable. "
Then she told us that last year, she went on an exploration. She talked with over 11,000 millennials. Most had not be raised anywhere near a traditional church, most had not grown up knowing who Jesus was, but in the midst of those conversations she heard good news- Christianity is alive and well in our country- it just doesn’t look like this anymore. People are meeting in homes, and parks, in dorm rooms, and over the internet. She gave story after story of young believers who have no interest the way we do church, but have every interest in studying and sharing the gospel, working in the community, volunteering at homeless shelters or after school programs, getting involved in habitat for humanity or justice organizations. It was so inspiring- and so scary.
Because what hit me immediately is that omgosh- who organizes all of that? And who insures that the right gospel is being taught? And who checks in with these people to make sure they have what they need to do ministry, and worse, what happens to us?
Let me bring you back to Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul celebrates young Timothy’s faith, and calls it the faith of his grandmother, and his mother, and now Timothy’s own. But like all of us, Timothy needed to revamp- or in Paul’s words, rekindle that faith. And Paul reminds Timothy that though things are changing, and it may seem scary, that God didn’t give us a Spirit of cowardice- of fear- but God gave us a Spirit of Power!
And when I hear these words- I think, 'this is exactly what millennials are doing! They are doing ministry based on the assumption that they have within them, a Spirit of Power. And it’s working! They understand what business we are in- and that business is the delivery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s our business church- that’s our only business.
OK so then what do we do now, because I just said, our church is an exception. Does this affect us? Should we be worried?
Here’s what I know. God has called each of us to some sort of ministry. God has equipped each of us with a Spirit of Power. The way we stay relevant to the Gospel delivery system, is to keep delivering the gospel! And notice what i said- we keep delivering the gospel- we bring it out to the people. And yes, for some of us, this is very different from what we are used to. For some of us, the church is a place that is supposed to attract people. But my friends… though we have this gorgeous building and fantastic location on Main St., that is not the gift we have inherited from our ancestors.
The gift we have inherited is the Spirit. I would like you to imagine for just a minute, visualize if you can… if we had no church building, if there were no more church buildings, what would your Christian walk look like? How would people know you are Christian? How would you know you are a Christian? What things would you be doing, or saying outside of this building that would be good news to the poor, light to the darkness?
You see, we’ve become pretty comfortable at sharing our faith in here… Church has become a safe place- we can be Christian in here. But do the rest of our lives reflect the things we profess to believe? Are we living out the gospel for more than one hour a week? God needs more from the church than that… perhaps that’s why there is a huge Christian movement happening out there- because God’s Spirit is still calling people to participate in righteousness making activity in the world- to bring about shalom. And My God I want to be a part of it.
Can we figure out as a church, how to be in the business of delivering the Gospel, the good news, to a weary, needy world? And if you’re thinking- isn’t that what mission is for? You’re right. Except missionaries are not just a few brave souls who travel to third world countries- all of us are missionaries!
You know, the early church never had a building… but they were able, somehow to live out their faith in a way that caused the entire world to change. We are so fortunate to have this beautiful place to meet after a long week of ministry out there, to come and share worship. Praise God! But make no mistake this building is not the church- we are!