Change!

 
 
This is the text this sermon was based around. (It's not a transcript.)

 

This week I am preaching on one verse in particular:

35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8:35)

Where are we at as a congregation?

Here is the Good News

  • We are fulfilling our calling
  • The Market, and the Café are a marvellous ministry. So are WABI and Westsiders whom we host. When I came down on Thursday the place was humming with activity with Westsiders in the lounge and people ironing and organising in The Market, and other people buying. What a place! What a delight to be here! And it's a great place to be on Sundays.
  • We are a safe place, remarkably free of malice and ill will. I know we have our foibles and failings, but I count myself blessed as a minister to be in this place, and some of my colleagues are, frankly, jealous. One complained gently on Wednesday that I had not included them in the latest preaching plan!

 

But here is the Bad News

  • We have a 9,000 dollar deficit. (200.00 per week)
  • If we run this deficit and do it again next year we will be broke.
  • More bad news. We have a time and energy deficit. There's a whole bunch of folk here who need to stop doing some stuff just to be able to keep going and not get sick as they get older. And there might be more of us in this group.

The big trap for congregations in our situation is just to try to save money. They keep trying to do the same things with less money. They wind down, peter out, and close.

We have to deal with our money issue, but we also have to significantly change how we do church and how we are church, if we wish to survive rather than fade out with a whimper.

35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

If we will not let go of what we are doing, if we are not prepared to die, that means… to lose some of our treasured things, and our treasured ways of doing things, then we will die.

If we want to have any time to start something new, then we have to stop doing more things! We don't have spare people sitting around waiting for something to do!

We have to change how we are church, because the way we are church is not allowing or enabling enough people to join us to continue our ministry of service and love.

It's very easy to see that this is the case. It's obvious, and it's been obvious for a fair while.

The hard part is to know what to do, and how to change.

We have to move first.  We can't wait for something to happen.

For example, it's no good saying we'll think about sharing our building, and then working out how if someone comes along. We would need to set that strategy in place now, beforehand. 

We have to step into a new thing without knowing the outcome.

Remember the story of Abram in Gen 12.

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that… I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

 The Rabbis have long noticed that Abram was called out− God said "Go forth"− without knowing where he was going. And he bet the farm on it. He packed everything and everybody up. There was no going back. He only found out that Canaan was "the place" after he had arrived.

 Rabbi Zornberg quotes a Jewish  text which says Go forth means

“Travel in order to transform yourself, create yourself anew.” At its simplest, lekh lekha [go forth] translates: “Travel—to yourself.” Not to the present, resident self—but to the self of aspiration, the perhaps unimagined self. (The Murmuring Deep, Chapter 6)

We have to move and change without knowing what the outcome will be. And we have to be prepared to change big. We are not talking about cosmetic change. This even applied to Abram, who became our father in the faith. He was 75 years old; age is not the issue. It was in moving out in faith, changing everything,  that he found himself and was given a new name by God… Abraham.

I said to Council that I think one of the reasons new things fail is that

our new is not new enough. We have a failure of imagination. We start a new program which is really just a reshuffling of resources and the same old way of doing things. Examples would be simply changing church to 11am. It would help some of us get here on time as we grow older. But it addresses nothing else, and may make things harder for others of us. It might be part of a wider strategy, but on its own it is window dressing, and in our current crisis, a failure. It is not new enough.

If we save ourselves by not changing significantly enough, we will lose our life.

Change can be hard. I said to Council that sometimes we don't change enough because

We get scared when people get upset about change and try to stop it by threatening to leave or withdrawing their pledge etc.

I reminded us that

We are the way we are and do what we do because we have found a balance we all like or can at least live with…but  getting here, and doing what we do caused people to leave and withdraw their pledge! And it did not stop us.

Any change will upset somebody. It is impossible to please everyone. If no one is the least bit upset it means nothing has changed.

If we save ourselves because we are scared of change, we will die.

All this means that we have to change so much it will be like dying!

 It means that everything about the way we do this church is "up for grabs"−  everything from do we keep the  photocopier, to do we keep the minister?

So:

  • Do we continue worship based around the lectionary, or work on another basis?
  • What hours will the minister work, and when, and at what?
  • What will be the hours the office and the building are open?
  • Do we close the market because we don't have enough staff? (We don't.)
  • Do we upgrade the market? (er… staff to do this will come from where??? But let's ask the question. No questions are out of bounds.)
  • When do we have Café?
  • How often do we have Café?
  • Do we change how we do Café?
  • Do we keep Café?
  • Do we expand Café? How?
  • When do we have Sunday lunches, and how many, and where at ?
  • How do we do lunches?
  • When do we have worship? What day of the week do we have worship?
  • Where do we worship in the building?
  • Do we keep the pews?
  • What do we do about music and musicians?
  • Do we keep running a church office?
  • Do we stop having coffee before church, or do we actually have breakfast at church?
  • Do we invite Uniting Care to take over the office and the Hall Monday to Friday?
  • What will be the time/frequency/style/if of bible study?
  • Do we form a partnership with another congregation so that they worship Sunday and we worship Friday?
  • Do we combine with another congregation? Would it matter if they were not Uniting Church?
  • etc, etc, etc….

 

If we save ourselves because we are scared of change, we will die.

If we save our life because we make some things sacred, like little gods, we will lose our life.

We might ask ourselves, do we really want to grow… with all the pain and discomfort that will cause along with the joy?

 Do we really want to be in a situation where we are the minority among a whole heap of newcomers who have different ideas?

 Or do we really want to keep our lovely, wonderful comfortable little church but just have a few new people to help us keep doing what we are doing? In other words do we really want to stay the same, to work out somehow how to stay the same?

 If we save our lives by staying the same we will surely lose them.

 Understand what I am saying: imagine if we had Friday worship during and around Café. And some other group paid 70% of the running costs of the building in some kind of partnership where they used the worship centre. Our money problems would be solved. But we would still just be us. And the church would lose its life for the simple reason we are all getting older. In reality, nothing significant would have changed!

 We have to step into the flow of the spirit of change. We can't dictate how that will happen. We can only make ourselves ready by beginning to move to a vision which is not quite clear.

But if it's not a clear vision… I mean… what if it doesn't work? How do you know it will work?

Rabbi Aviva Zornberg says about Jonah

knowingness acts as camouflage for fear. A dangerous world between death and life makes [Jonah] cling to his certainties. The sailors, strikingly, act as a foil for Jonah. They pray to their gods, and urge him to pray to his—but without certainty: “Perhaps God will be kind to us and we will not perish” (Jon. 1:6). The future hangs in the balance, and the sailors know they do not know.

Similarly, the people of Nineveh repent of their evil ways, demonstratively acting out their contrition. But the king promises them nothing stronger than a “Who knows?”: “Who knows but that God may turn and relent? He may turn back from His wrath, so that we do not perish” (3:9). … The king knows that he does not know….

Perhaps is a peculiarly Jewish response to the mystery of God’s ways. When Moses strives to atone for his people, he says: “Perhaps I will win forgiveness for your sin” (Exod. 32:30).

 Who knows? is also the idiom of the prophet Joel: “Who knows but He may turn and relent?” (Joel 2:14). Who knows? speaks of humility and hope, and a sense of the incalculable element in the relation of God and human beings. In the end, forgiveness and survival are a matter of God’s chesed, a gratuitous gesture that cannot be already known.

(Hesed means: "loving-kindness," "kindness" or "love.")

If we save ourselves from the uncertainty of changes
if we save ourselves from uncertainty of not knowing
If we save ourselves because what we do may not work and because we can't see a guaranteed outcome
if we stick with what we know
,
we will lose our life.

If we set out on a journey, confident that God loves us and calls us,
confident that we are fulfilling our calling
then perhaps God will save us from the usual death of a congregation.
If we will die perhaps we will save our life.
If we will not die, we will lose our life.

My best wisdom is this:

Firstly, we must put ourselves in the way of the Spirit. We have to step out of our comfort zone. We must change enough to be open to new things. We will make a few savings, but in twelve months we need to have substantially changed how we are doing and being church.

We need to be so changed that Glenys and David come down for the weekend and ask each other, "Is this the same church!?"

 The good news is that we are in a good place to do this. This is already an open and affirming congregation. We know how to change things. We are not afraid of things which are different. I think we can do this.

 But secondly, we must desire to grow. This has "got whiskers on it." I'm scared of big congregations− I don't know how to "do them." I don't even know how to work with a growing congregation. I barely know how to start.

 And we must avoid strategies that turn people into objects, into "bums on seats." We need a strategy to grow our mission of service and love to those around us. We must honestly be able to say, "We want you to join us to help serve and love this street and this suburb. Could you find a vision for your ministry with in our community?"

 As soon as we slip into any hints of "We need you to keep our numbers up and keep the church going," we are beginning to save ourselves and we will risk losing our life. I would rather we died than be a "bums on seats" church.

 Sometimes the difference between those two kinds of growth will not be easy to distinguish.

 It's Lent, a time for reflection and reassessing and reorientating our faith walk. I ask you to pray for our congregation. Pray for Council as it works and prays and risks. Pray for me− I'm scared. We will keep you posted, but we really need your support here.

 Talk to Council. Tell them what you think. Encourage them. Share your fears and your reservations for sure, but encourage them.

 And finally, I am confident of our calling. I am confident that God would have us be in this place so that everyone last one of us here today can grow old here, if we wish, and have our funeral here. And I am confident that God would have the place go on long after we have gone on. And I am confident that if we move out into a new vision and it fails we have still saved our life. We will be the better for it.

Amen. 

Andrew




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