“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”
Anyone who knows me well knows of my deep love for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have so many reasons I love him but this quote captures the best of what he offers. Bonhoeffer was leading the church in challenging times. He was continually calling the church to reflect and articulate why they exist in light of the tremendous societal forces around them. Bonhoeffer wrote this quote while in prison while waiting for a death sentence from the Nazi government. The Nazi political machine had subverted the vast majority of congregations to use them as agents of propaganda influencing the German people.
At our July communion service, we will be using the Barmen Declaration as our confession of faith. Barmen was written in May of 1934 as a theological proclamation that Christ alone was Lord of the Church. It was a push back against the Nazi movement within the Church who called themselves “German Christians”. These “German Christians” were pushing the church to blindly support and trust the Nazi government. While the context is drastically different from Bonhoeffer’s time, his quote remains important for the church.
Why are we here? Why do we exist as a church? Would anyone miss us if we were gone? How are we working for the flourishing of the City? How are we inviting those around us to live for Christ, to exist for others? These questions begin to touch on the core of why we exist. These are questions every church must wrestle with regularly if we are to continue in the service of Christ.
This month, I shared with the session some of the learning I had during a consultation I had while in California with “Flourish San Diego”. Their vision is to “help people & churches flourish into the fullness of who they were created to be so they can join God in flourishing our city and world.” My friend, Dr. Geoffrey Hsu, is the founder and director of the organization. He and I sat down for six hours and I presented the ministry context, challenges, and strengths of First Presbyterian Church here in Duluth. We did some good wrestling as we pushed back and forth about things that might work or might not, approaches to follow and approaches that would be detrimental. I’m so thankful for his time. He helped sharpen and organize many of the hopes and visions of First Presbyterian.
Here is a brief outline of what we came up with. First, understand God’s mission in Duluth and how we can partner in that mission. Second, wrestle with who we need to be insight of that mission. (Essentially, this piece asking how to strengthen ourselves to be the disciples Christ needs here and now.) Finally, in light of who we are, what do we do? (Another way of saying this would be what is our vocation, or calling, in light of who Christ has formed us into?)
Our work cannot be about getting more people in the door. If that is our focus, we have already been captured by Satan. No, our work is partnering with God’s mission. Our work is not only becoming proclaimers of the word but doers also. The work of God is so joyful and purpose giving it is irresistible. As we come on mission with God, the people and money will take care of themselves. If God needs us working, we will be here.
So, I want us all to engage with the questions I presented. Write something up and give it to an Elder. Pray for discernment. Wrestle deeply with why God has placed you at First and how you play a piece in the ministry we are called to. Together we can experience the Joy of God’s Mission!
In Christ’s Service,
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