September. The “beginning” of the church ministry year. We talk so much about our fall launch in North American church culture. There is even an official “back to church Sunday” on September 15th in the States. But I wonder if this type of event is actually a product of defective thinking. Sure, “back to church Sunday” is clever and is a great marketing tool to draw attention to what has become the launching point of many programs and ministries in the church year, but are we sending the wrong message even as we’re trying to send the right one? When did it become OK to “leave” church in the first place? Why have we bought into this mindset that summer “belongs” to us, that church (and God) should naturally take a back seat to warmer temperatures, family vacations and longer days? I realize I’m drawing huge generalizations with these statements, and if they offend you, I am sorry.
Let me ask you a question. When you plan out your vacation time, whether that time is in the next time zone, on another continent or simply down the road at a family cottage, do you plan where and when you will go to church? Do you plan where and when you will worship as a family? Does the Bible go with you, what about family devotions after supper, or bed-time prayers with your spouse and kids?
Don’t get me wrong. I was on vacation this summer too. I was away from PEMC, but was I away from church? No. OK, to be honest I was only in church 2 of 3 Sundays, but that was because we were travelling that third Sunday. And we’re not perfect with our family devotions when we’re at home let alone when we’re away. But we try. The point is that pastors are probably worse than most at this. Pastors often make the mistake of taking a vacation from church while they are on vacation. They don’t plan on being in church while they are away because, let’s be honest, what pastors need a vacation from is church. That is not OK.
Hebrews 10 points out: 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
“meeting together” is vital to our lives as Christians. In just these three short verses the writer of Hebrews mentions three things meeting together does: 1) helps us hold fast to our confession of hope, IE: our faith in Jesus Christ, 2) encourages us, and 3) reminds us of our mission to be salt and light to the world (love and good deeds).
That leads me to my next point, when does church ministry really stop? Let me clarify. If you’ve been in the church for a while you read those words “church ministry” and you jump to a whole bunch of mental conclusions without even thinking about it. When you read “church ministry”, you might think, automatically, about the programs, small groups, outreaches, Bible studies, soup kitchens, Sunday schools, prayer meetings and worship times that your “church” staffs, promotes and offers. But what if that phrase meant something else entirely. If you’ve been reading these posts, you will realize that I don’t assign the same definitions to things that others might. What if “church” did not refer to the building and organization you happen to attend or belong to; but instead referred to the body of born again believers who you are privileged to be part of, and referred to you as part of that body? And what if “ministry” did not mean all of those fancy programs, planned events, organized gatherings and staffed functions we all know and love? What if “ministry” meant the simple act of living out the Word, following the example of Christ and obeying His two biggest commandments (1: Love God, Love Neighbour and 2: Go and make disciples).
Suddenly, church ministry is not something you attend or volunteer at because the organization you are part of is running or promoting it. Church ministry becomes everything that you do as a born again believer to bring glory to God, be obedient to his commands and share the hope of Jesus with the people God has put around you every day, even during the summer time. Church ministry becomes very personal. When you begin to look at it that way, it makes “leaving” church a bit more difficult, doesn’t it. Thankfully, we have one another for encouragement and to spur one another on to love and good deeds. It is all one big, glorious, heavenly designed circle.
So why do we feel the need to have a break from church? Maybe because we’ve become so stuck in “doing” our faith that we have lost track of what it means to simply “be” a Christian. I hear it all the time as the pastor of a church. People are tired of doing ministry. Strung out, burned out, wiped out, stretched thin, pick the turn of phrase that suits you best. I love the ones who spiritualize it the best: “I feel God calling me out of this ministry” or “I’m not sure I’m gifted to do that.” All because ministry has become something we do instead of who we are, the faith we live by and what God calls us to.
Here’s the truth of the matter. I don’t want to call PEMC “back to church”. I want to call the people who make up PEMC to BE the church. Love God with all you heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. Love you neighbour as you would love yourself. Be a witness for Jesus, give testimony of His greatness, shine a light in the darkness. None of that gets tiring, in fact, it gives life. Let me leave you with two statements from Jesus that prove it, both taken from the gospel of John.
John 6:63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.