Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Christian's Witness

When I first came to this parish, I was pretty much alone in the building most of the week.  It was a hard time and the loneliness was a shock to someone who had grown accustomed to a preschool and a parish which was, in many respects, the center of its people's lives.  I had a few visitors and a few phone calls but more visitors were folks looking for a hand out than people from the parish or unchurched folk in search of redemption.

Years went by and I had a steady stream of people coming to the exterior door just steps from my office.  It was even more strange because this was a side door and not well marked.  But they kept coming.  I nearly went broke the first few months until I had to scale back the assistance.  Largely because of this, I now do not carry cash so that I can direct but not supply cash to those who come looking for money.

When our parish celebrated a 35th anniversary we invited previous Pastors back to preach and to celebrate their time here (two were living, one deceased was replaced by his son).  One Pastor, the second of those to serve this parish, came early to walk through the building and talk.  One of the first things he did was go to that side door and check to see if the "mark" was still there.  Even under a couple of coats of paint, he found it.  What he found was a mark placed there by panhandlers who had found this parish and its Pastor an easy "mark" for some cash or other assistance.  "Hmmmmmmm, so that is why...."  "Sure enough," he said. "I nearly went broke the first weeks I was here."  Hmmmmm, that explains it... Those who had found little help here, marked the door so that future folks would know that there was a sympathetic soul to be found in side.  I had no idea that beggars (more or less professional) shared this information with others.

“We are mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.”  So said Luther (or something to that effect).  In that little sentence is more than a lot of wisdom.  Christian witness is simply tell others where we beggars have found the Bread of Life, the only bread that satisfies, the Bread of Heaven that is Jesus Christ.  We make much of evangelism and outreach.  It has become the cause above causes for congregations facing decline or church bodies desperate to plug the leak of members.  Even the Southern Baptists are experiencing a decline in baptisms and growth.  More and more the Church is apt to view the world as an untapped marketplace wherein we sell Jesus to people (after first selling them the idea that they need Him and all that He offers).  It is no surprise that we screw it all up when we are motivated by desperation and borrowing our models from the advertising and business industries.

Recently my own District has come up with a plan to pay Pastors $500 bucks to make 30 weekly contacts in the community, follow up on 15 of them, and pray for 5 of them (why we don't pray for all 30 is another question) over six months.  It is an embarrassing attempt to turnaround a District and parishes stagnant or declining in numbers.  More than this, it gets the whole thing wrong.  We do not witness because we have a passion for the lost or because there is something in it for us ($500).  We are beggars who have found the Bread of Life (or, more accurately, it found us).  There is bread there more than we could ever consume.  We, who have found such wonderful satisfaction of our hunger and need, cannot help but share the bounty with others.  We tell other beggars where to find this Bread.  I really do not get why this is so difficult or why this gets so screwed up.  We are not marketers nor are we soul winners.  We are beggars who share where is this bread that feeds you till you want for no more...  If we took this seriously, there would be no shortage of folks curious and hungry who pass the doorposts of our churches... Until we take it seriously we will attempt to use gimmicks and the wrong motivation to get the word out -- though when we are content with gimmicks and when we use the wrong motivation, it might be legitimately asked if we are witnessing the genuine Gospel or just another distortion of the Bread of Life that has come down from heaven, of which you eat and hunger no more....

Just a few thoughts this Tuesday morning....


Anonymous said...

Who is your district president and what does he believe about these payments? What does President Harrison believe about this? Surely this is another sign that does not bode well for the church.

Anonymous said...

The Christian Witness is all about
motivation. We witness for Christ
because we love Him and He loves us.
We want others to know His love that
led Him to the cross to die for our
sins that we might be forgiven.
Only a Gospel motivated witness can
be truly effective with the Holy
Spirit's help.

Paul said...

"...we must realize that what we have to do is allow ourselves to be loved, to be there for love to love us." (Sr Ruth Burrows) Here's my "bullet" prayer for the lost and found alike: May _____ know how much You love ___ and how much ____ needs You. It's time for leadership in the Mid-South to reflect the new leadership in St. Louis.

Janis Williams said...

In my Baptist life, I attended seminary. Weekly we were required to report that we had fully shared the Gospel (back when evangelicals knew what it was) with at least one person. We weren't paid, but our grades were witheld if we didn't meet the quota.

Not only do gimmicks make me sick, they make me sin. If I am bound under them, I will find a way around them, and lie that I have done them. If I am free, then I must ask the Lord for mercy and forgiveness.

Why? Because now that I AM free (Lutheran!) I sin by my terrible attitude toward those who use gimmicks. It burns me that Lutherans are going to what I ran from. I am not above calling those who are blind to gimmicks' results bad names.

+ Robert Wurst said...

And the mark on the chuch's door to let beggars know where to find an easy mark? The Sacrament on the Altar is the sign to poor beggars. Here I am. Take, eat! All for you! Have some more!

Anonymous said...

Interesting how I read this article and then not 30 minutes later, stumbled on a page showing Hobo Signs. Is #47 the sign that was on your church?


Michelle, Pastor's Wife in Iowa

Pastor Peters said...

Actually it was 27 -- Okay, alright.