A few weeks back I was talking with a person who had left their congregation. I asked what made them leave and they said it was the church's stewardship campaign. This particular congregation spent an entire month talking about what monies go to, how they can adjust their spending to give more, and overall fiscal responsibility. Yet, apparently, the focus was not on the bible. The person left because church had become a business instead of a community of believers.
The mainline church is in a funk right now. Most congregations are losing members instead of gaining, and dealing with oversized buildings that are too large for their undersized budgets. They have found the solution is to talk directly to the issue: We need money so let's have a stewardship campaign. We need congregants so let's have a membership campaign. We need programs so let's create programs.
In truth the answer has more to do with the spirit and where it dwells. We were spoiled by the 50's. People felt a need back then to be part of something bigger than themselves. All the church had to do was create a nice welcome mat and the people would come. Today, people are being pulled from 20 different directions. Their children have 5-10 school programs they can participate in. They have to pull more hours at work to have the same amount of pay. So many charities are asking for donations and volunteers. Meanwhile, the church sits vacant with a pretty welcome mat.
The church has to realize congregants give money to a cause, not a budget. The church has to understand people need a purpose to give their effort and time to. It isn't good enough anymore just to put out a welcome mat and see who walks in. If the spirit is alive and well in the church the programs and money naturally follows.
So I had a revelation yesterday while I was reflecting on scripture. In Matthew 18:10-14 Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. If a shepherd has 100 sheep and one is lost the shepherd goes out and finds the one. I might have heard that scripture at least half a hundred times throughout my lifetime. I might be underestimating that estimate. Still, it took yesterday to articulate something that has be rubbing me the wrong way for months now.
I don't agree with the Occupy movement. I don't think it has been put together to share a message of love, and without a message of love I cannot see any good that can come from it. Before yesterday I couldn't fully explain myself. The Matthew scripture brings it all together.
If a person becomes lost to the collective group we are not called to destroy, steal, or hurt the person who becomes lost. If a person strays away from the family of God we are not called to further ostracize that person. If the one cannot seem to find their way, it is not our place to consider that a reason to hate. Instead, it is our job to bring them back, to love them, to welcome them. The Occupy movement has created a "us/them" issue. Poor us. Hate them. It doesn't matter if 'them' is right or wrong, the movement is wrong in how they are dealing with it. No matter what the 1% believes, does, or has done they are still sheep. They are still part of the fold. It doesn't matter if their wool is a different color, they are still part of the shepherd's flock. If we are honest we will realize these ideas are the wolves in sheep clothing. They are causing us to tear ourselves apart.
Therefore I stand and say: I am the 100%.
Did you know it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile? That is what I heard. Yet, it does seem easier to frown than to 'tip that frown upside down.' Why do you think that is? I think it is because we have worked those muscles more throughout our life until it is easier to be down and blue rather than uplifted and sunny. In my mind this means it takes more work to be negative towards the self and others but when that negativity is practiced on a daily basis it is also easier than being positive.
Jesus had something to say about this practice: “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matt 5:43-45 CEB)
It takes less work to love our enemy. It is an easier load to carry. Yet if we are not working the right and good muscles we are doomed to the negativity that comes with our bad choices.
Our salvation will not come from the knife of vengeance. We will not find salvation by labeling who will or who will not go to hell. Jesus didn't do that. If anything, Jesus did the exact opposite. Jesus took the knife upon himself. Jesus took put the sin upon himself. In perfect love, he took everything.
It is easier to hate those we don't understand or we have chosen to be 'less than worthy,' and we are willing to put in the work to do that. Instead, lets begin working the right muscles. When we start to feel that hate well up inside us, let's stop and find a way to love. It will not be easy at first. It will change your life.
There are a few reasons why this new church start is named Fig Tree Christian. The main reason is the biblical mandate to spread the story that was shared on the opening page. If we want to be a thriving community of God we need to produce good fruit. Fruit, by its very nature, spreads seed and therefore creates new plants or trees when those seeds are consumed and expelled. (I know, not the most beautiful example, but true none the less.)
This new church start is more than a new beginning. This is a church meant to produce fruit that becomes the seed for new churches. In other words, the mission of Fig Tree Christian is to grow and build new churches. Fig Tree will never be a big mega-church or a large church, because by design once the church reaches a certain size there will be a healthy split and a group would go out and start a new church with their own name and mission. Fig Tree will be a training ground, the fertile soil where we can learn to connect with the community in a current and real way.
If you want a place where you can explore your relationship with Christ without being condemned for asking the "wrong" questions. (Even though such a thing doesn't exist) If you want a place where change is constant and healthy. If you want a place where you can shape the face of a new church, consider Fig Tree. We will be waiting for you!