Dear People of Bethlehem,
My goal has been to visit with as many of you as possible this Summer and Fall. I have three main goals:
- To get to know you. Tell me about yourself — your family, your work, your history at church, significant moments in your life, etc.
- To get to know the ministry at Bethlehem. What do you love about Bethlehem? What have been Bethlehem’s strengths? What is a ministry that’s been important in the past that might be possible to revive now? Are there any possible new ministries that you think fit the congregation’s ‘personality’ and strengths?
- What do think about my priority of revitalizing the church’s basic Gospel message? Questions? Feedback? Disagreements? If that isn’t a priority for beginning to increase the numbers at church, then what is? What do you see as the key to turning around the decline across the church at large?
Regarding the third goal, revitalizing the Gospel message, here’s a summary of my view: the church has focused too much on the afterlife, on a mission of helping people get to heaven when they die. That’s still important, but is it the most relevant to people’s lives now? What would make folks excited about participating at church in activities most relevant to their lives?
My answer involves what most New Testament scholars are saying is most faithful to the Bible’s message in the first place: The Good News that Jesus came to announce and set in motion is that God’s reign was coming into the world through his death and resurrection. It’s already begun! God has acted through Jesus, and through the sending of the Holy Spirit, to begin setting right God’s creation. As we proclaim together on non-Communion Sundays, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: Everything old has passed away; behold, everything has become new!” (With One Voice, p. 49)
If things often seem to be the same old story to us, that’s because a crucial part of revitalizing the Gospel message is to be taught to see in a new way. We mainly see what we are taught to see! And the default way of being to taught to see is through the lens of human reigns and cultures. We are taught to see everything through a lens of good and bad, Us and Them. A huge factor in proclaiming the reign of God in Jesus is the wholly different way that Jesus is trying to teach us. Healing people who are literally blind was a sign of what Jesus has to do metaphorically for all human beings — since we are trapped in a way of seeing the world in terms of division and conquest over others. Jesus came to heal that form of blindness so that we can begin to see the world more as it is, without our typical rush to judgments. In fact, science is generally much closer to the way of seeing which we need in God’s kingdom, being trained to see the world as it is, without fear or favor. And beyond that, the way of seeing in God’s culture is to increasingly see things in harmony and oneness, not as in division and conflict. Since all of us are raised in human cultures with the blinders of division and conflict, following Jesus into God’s reign requires a LIFELONG PROCESS OF CONVERSION. Not a religious conversion to the extent that religions tend to also be blinded by division and conflict. No, we are being converted into a whole new way of seeing God’s creation so that we can finally grow up into full maturity as human beings.
Lifelong conversion? Are we really signing up for that in being disciples of Jesus? Yes, we are. If that sounds more daunting than exciting, then that’s a first goal to set together in getting to know one another as pastor and congregation. I invite you to be honest with me in our conversations. And I invite you to be open to my own story of conversion, because I’m excited!! I think this is an exciting time to be the church in helping our neighbors and family to find hope and purpose for their lives. Please make it a priority to meet with me in the coming weeks.
Peace, Pastor Paul