the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Year A - Easter 2

Where Do We Go from Here?

Liturgy of the Word:
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Abraham Lincoln said, “The Lord prefers common-looking people. That’s the reason he made so many of them.” The same might be said of small churches. Although much is written about megachurches, we’re simply a nation of small churches. Approximately two-thirds of all churches in the United States average 100 people or fewer on Sun-days. More than 100,000 churches average 50 or fewer in their Sunday morning attendance.

I believe the key issue for churches in the twenty-first century will be church health, not church growth.*

Last Week I spoke these words:

Do not embrace the stagnant stone of complacency. If you do, this church will cease to be the Church, the body of Christ, in this community. Our attendance is deplorable. Church has become something to do when we don’t have anything better to do. Our recent offerings will not support the ministry of this church. Our outreach to the community is confined to purchasing a few gifts for one family at Christmas. We come to church on Sunday morning and that is all the church we want. And many of you don’t come but once a month or even less.

We have no programs for our youth. Consequently, we have no young people in our church. We have tried many times to begin programs to reach out to both our youth and our adult communities. Many of you have children and grandchildren. Most of them go to other churches, if they go at all. What is it about this church that drives them away? Unless we change, and reach out to the youth of this community, this church will be dead in ten years.

Those were harsh words. They were words that, I am sure, caused much pain and perhaps much anger. But please know that I said those words out of love for you and this little body of Christ we call Hope Memorial Baptist Church.

Our problem is not that we are small. There are many small churches that thrive at the size they are. They are a witness for Christ in their community.

Small Churches are a place where people can experience community. Large churches tend to be very impersonal whereas in small churches everyone knows one another. We know each other’s kids, grand kids, pets, aunts and uncles. We know each other’s trials in life, be it sickness, grief or sadness. We share each other’s joys, such as birthdays, the birth of new child or grandchild. These are qualities you won’t find in a large church.

In small churches, everyone has an opportunity to use their talents to serve God. In large churches a person is overlooked in the crowd unless they possess a very highly gifted talent. But God made mediocre talent too. And he intends us to use our talents, no matter how accomplished or unaccomplished it may be, to further his Kingdom growth. In a small church, talent is sparse. There is always something that needs a person to take charge of it and make it a witness for the Lord.

In small churches, communication is quick. In healthy small churches issues get discussed before they become problems. People talk to one another. Did you notice, last Sunday people actually stayed behind after the service to talk with one another about their week. People need a place to share their stories. And we need to hear the stories of others so we can place our own stories in the context of reality.

I’d like to make one thing clear. I do not advocate for a bunch of fancy programs designed to get everyone involved in church. I do advocate for people who love one another, and love their neighbors, enough to get involved and be a witness for Christ.

There was a time when this church was large enough and had enough income to support a full time pastor. During those times, the pastor did most of the outreach to the community. But now our church can only afford a bi-vocational minister. One of the things I did not know when I first became your pastor, was that bi-vocational churches are different from churches where there are full time pastors. Full-time pastors spend their work day seeing to the ministry of the church. They visit the sick, they canvass the neighborhood looking for newcomers. Part of their work day is taken up with bible study and sermon preparation. They have time to spend planning ministry activities so people have every opportunity to be involved.

In a bi-vocational church, the pastor spends his working hours earning a living for his family. All of his pastoral duties are done during his leisure time. It’s like trying to do two full-time jobs. When people are in the hospital, or there is a death in the community, the pastor has to ask off from his day job to perform his ministerial duties. He is unable to meet with other pastors in the community to share ideas about how to be more effective in his ministry. For years, I felt guilty because I felt too tired at the end of the work day to go visiting. I used my Saturday’s to prepare for Sunday’s service and could not get out and canvass the neighborhood for new comers. I felt like all these things were my duty. I even heard people say, “Don’t expect me to go visiting, that’s the preacher’s job.” I understand that sentiment. When people work hard all day they want to be able to rest, relax and recreate. And your pastor is no different.

The way in which bi-vocational churches are different from full-time pastoral ministries is that the membership must do most of the ministry of the church. The role of the pastor becomes more of a leader and a planner, than a doer. He spends his time away from his regular job guiding the membership to reach out to the community, visit the sick, minister to the grieving, canvass the neighborhood for newcomers, and provide the staff of teachers and group leaders to carry on the ministry of the church.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was an itinerant preacher. He went around the country founding new churches. He would stay in any one community only long enough to get the church established and then he was off again to another place where there was no church. All of the ministry was done by ordinary Christians, the membership of the church.

We must consider ourselves partners in this ministry. We must look to our future and the future of the ministry of Christ in Major, GA, and the surrounding area. Look to the fields for they are already white unto harvest. New neighborhoods are being built every day. We no longer live in a rural community. Our world is changing and if we are to survive we must change with it. This is the first in a series of sermons designed to move us forward with hope and health as effective ministers for the Lord.

Let us Pray.

* Rick Warren


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