Answering the big questions!
by Rev Peter Beale
(Published in News First, September 2004 - monthly church newsletter, Warragul Uniting Church)
Every now and then in life we are confronted with spiritual questions that we know we must answer for ourselves. We could choose not to answer the question, or to allow others to answer it for us, but both of these leave us with missed opportunities for spiritual growth, as human beings, and in our relationship with God.
Some of these questions are familiar to us:
Do I believe in God?
Do I believe that Jesus died for me?
Will I follow Jesus?
Will I be baptised (or confirmed)?
Will I let the Holy Spirit take control?
Will I act upon God’s call on my life?
Many of us will have answered a resounding YES to all of these questions. Some of us may have struggled with a few of them. Perhaps there are questions, even in this short list, that some of us want to avoid answering for one reason or another.
At the recent conference I attended on Thriving Church Leadership many more questions were put to the delegates. Some of the questions asked were stressed as vital for leadership in the church today – so vital that failure to respond to them was the equivalent of acceptance of the inevitability of decline in our churches. That is, the gradual decline we have seen in our churches over the past 40 years will continue, unless we are able to answer the same questions that so many thriving churches, around the world, have been able to answer.
The most challenging question confronting us at the conference is the one of which our speaker, Thomas Bandy said, “If I can answer this question - nothing is impossible! If I can’t - my ministry is impotent.” What is this question?
What is it about your (my) experience with Jesus that this community can’t live without?
To answer this question it will take more than a little self examination. This question is about our experience of Christ as individuals, and as a corporate body – the congregation. It is about the people Jesus calls us to reach out to in love, with the good news that we have received. It is about our going into the community and finding out its greatest need. It is about finding what is it in our experience that matches that perceived need.
Do you feel like running away from this question, or letting someone else answer it? I do. But I can’t. I believe that answering this question for myself is vital for my own personal growth, and for my ministry with you all. I want to answer it, despite its demands, and I know there is no instant answer to it. It will take time.
Each of us has a ministry. Each of us has a calling to minister to those within our spheres of influence. Most of us have the ability to listen to and discern the needs of those around us. Most, if not all of us, have had experiences with Jesus that make us want to worship, that make us want to keep coming back to church each week.
So, what is it about our experience with Jesus that this community can’t live without? Gil Cann, preaching at our Warragul congregation just recently offered one possibility, though this was offered in a general sense across the entire western world. Gil expressed the greatest need as “relationships”. People in the western world are fast loosing the ability to relate with one another, to be considerate of one another, to show compassion. The norms of community behaviour have changed. People are more alone than ever before and traditional support systems are failing to meet this need.
Gil Cann suggests that the church is the place where this need for relationships can be met. As Christ calls us to love one another and we fulfil this command, we gain this incredible experience that the community desperately needs. This is clearly an answer to the big question above, but is it the answer for us and our community? Does this ring true for our own personal experience, our congregational experience, and the definite needs of the community in which we live?
To answer this we need to use our best listening skills, discover the deepest needs of our community, match that with our experience of Jesus, and begin focusing all our mission and ministry in that direction. This we must do, if we want to thrive!