By: Bishop Scott Jones On 3/14/2012
Topics: Bishop's Columns & Blogs
Dying congregations essentially tell their members, “It doesn’t really matter how you live or practice your faith.”
Growing congregations expect a lot from their members.
On the surface that seems crazy. Who wants to join a group where the price of belonging is so high?
The answer to this mystery lies in the very nature of God, the Church and salvation. God created humanity with a particular purpose in mind—to love him with heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40).
Yet, we are like sheep that have gone astray, following our own ways rather than God’s. How do we get back on track?
God’s forgiving love accepts us as we are, brings us back to relationship with God and then shapes us to become the kind of people we were and are intended to be. Everything hinges on a life of grace where we stay connected to God and allow God to help us grow up to be mature Christians.
That journey from sin to new life to being a mature Christian is the way of salvation, and it is a set of practices where individuals and groups of people experience God’s grace and grow toward the goal. That spiritual life involves being caught up in God’s saving purposes for the world as well because being saved means allowing ourselves to be used by God for accomplishing God’s purposes.
How do we stay in touch with God’s grace? We practice the means of grace. One of the chief means is weekly worship.
I want to shout this from the rooftop: Every Christian should worship God in a gathered community of faith every week. No exceptions.
We need to teach people that they need the grace of God, and the chief means of grace is to worship. If they are sick, they should worship online or through the television. If they are traveling, they should find the nearest church and worship there. If it is a normal Sunday and they are home, they should make sure that worship is built into their weekend plan. Whatever it takes, make sure you get some of that grace of God in a worship service every week.
There are several reasons for this.
First, Jesus told us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Before each of my sermons, I acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s presence, and then I ask that I might have the eyes to see the Holy Spirit and the ears to hear God’s word.
Second, Christianity is a team sport. John Wesley said that there is no such thing as solitary Christianity. My sisters and brothers in the faith need me, and I need them. Gathering together for worship—as well as fellowship and service—strengthens all of us.
Third, worship changes me and gives me new priorities for the future. I need the support of others who had the same experience to use the grace that I have been given.
When people enter the United Methodist way of salvation as baptized believers, we ask them to commit to prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. The presence part of that promise is important, and we need to teach people so. Then, we need to help them keep their promises. That is how we love each other well.