When The Church Battles Atrophy

I have this theory. Some proof-data, but mainly what I’m “sensing” from pastors who share their current world. The theory goes like this: rich people—make that very rich people—are not always [or all the time] contained by their check book. For many—and I’ve been blessed beyond measure by people who will never see a food stamp by this: no matter your station in life, or your latest fantasy league victories that prompt a visit to the bank, for deposit only, a need to help others is ingredient in the human DNA.

Yep. Believe that. One example always charters this course. In my last parish many were restless. I sensed it but couldn’t document it. Not being a golfer and grateful no invitations were forthcoming to the country clubs in the area, many loved the 18 holes and more than a few harbored their day at the 19th hole.

The decision was supported by the Church Council that I take “one day a week off as a sabbatical day.” Since it was in Chicago Land and the Cubs didn’t play in the winter…and the Northwest for fishing moments was both too distant and too expensive, the decision was to do something different. Not sure who prompted the musing…probably some of the fellow clergy who spelled m-i-s-s-i-o-n with fervor. So. I visited various mission projects and thought it would work: signed up as a once/week soup kitchen pastor at the Good News Soup Kitchen. And, no. That wasn’t an oxymoron.

Each night a hot meal was served to over 200 folk, some of whom I’ve mentioned in previous blogs. First time I’d met some guys whose home was a cardboard hut in the alley. The meal was prepared and served by churches. Thirty one churches were food servers and care-givers. Then one church dropped out. Ah. A vacancy! Talked with our pastoral staff and they agreed: why doesn’t our church sign up for the soup kitchen?

We did. The announcement was in our worship and newsletters, something to the effect, “Wanna help? Make and serve a meal once a month.” Something like that. We indicated a sign-up list would be on the bulletin board the next Sunday.

After the second service I went to the bulletin board and noticed a change. The first list provided 20 spaces. That was full! Someone added a second list…another 20 names. Too many! But, no, we’d simply do a lottery to serve food. What a twist, right? We needed 6 people every 4th Thursday [and yes, that included November, a day of Thanksgiving].

When we posted the list, something happened that was new. Some members were a few stages beyond anger, just a breath or two short of rage. Remember one who couldn’t ever talk without pointing a sharp finger, “How could you?” [Didn’t think the sermon that morning was worthy of rage.] The pointer went on, “How in God’s name could you leave my name off the first group list??? I signed up, the church always needs sign-ups. And YOU! [finger pushing me] You make me wait until the 4th month? That’s not right.”

That struck me…the reality of what we were doing much more than an accusing finger in the chest…people NEED to help, they NEED to participate in something that transcends the self. Life is more than a check-book and a par day on the back nine.

Now. No guarantees. But it seems to me…and more illustrations could be provided…that no matter the where or how or when for any church, especially those who experience what might be termed the ministry of atrophy, the invite is there: what does your community need? How can the church be into some kind of growth? For it is clear: mission is never out of date or short in value.

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About Mark H Miller

Diane and I live in Leander, Texas. This past June 17, 2015 I celebrated the 49th anniversary of my ordination. We returned to Texas after three years in Washington, during which I served as interim minister in Bellevue/Eastgate and Mercer Island. Am planning to begin a 5th novel that will have my protagonist, Tricia Gleason, serve a year in licensed ministry in Snoqualmie, Washington. The novel, "The Lemon Drop Didn't Melt," will find Tricia wrestling with ministry challenges. None of which more daunting than someone wanting her breathing to stop. All the published novels are available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle under Mark Henry Miller. A primary goal in our return to Texas is to make sure grandchildren get lots of attention--here and in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Traveling is definitely an activity that will not slow down. With that, of course, fishing will happen. To that the t-shirt is apt, "I fish; therefore I am." In addition to novels, the book of Blogs, "Voice Of My Heart," is also available on Amazon.
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2 Responses to When The Church Battles Atrophy

  1. Rydstrom Roger says:

    I REMEMBER A MARRIAGE COUNCILOR ADVICE… NEVER START A CONVERSATION WITH…. “YOU…” ( or have it in your first sentence )
    I am saving, ” … …people NEED to help, they NEED to participate in something that transcends the self. Life is more than a check-book and a par day on the back nine. ” Thank you..RTR

  2. Warren Johnson says:

    opportunity builds community, if you do not provide an avenue for growth and fellowship in your church then your Church will die. The more opportunity people have to be involved in the life of the church the more that they grow in their faith. There is a purpose for their walk. Not just saying I am a Christian in name but in good works with the vine. Which builds a healthy church that can endure all. No one man can defeat the body of Christ.

    Pastor Warren Johnson
    Forks Congregational Church
    United Church of Christ

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