Consumer or Disciple?

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February 2015

“The Church is the only organization in the world that exists solely for the benefit of its non-members”.
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942-44

The Vestry of the Cathedral is studying together a book about Church leadership and mission entitled “Cultivating the Missional Church”. This book, written by Randolph C. Ferebee, an Episcopal Priest is one of many that speaks to how we focus ourselves as Church in mission in the midst of changing times.

Chapter six of his book presents the reader with considering the Church’s movement from a “Christendom” era, where Church lived as an integrated institution in a society that accepted and understood it’s role, to a “postChristendom era, where the Church’s role and institutional functioning in society is more marginalized. In other words, what the church was and how the church carried out its mission as an accepted, influential, integrated entity in society has clearly shifted in a “post-modern”, materialistic, pluralistic society.

A few real-time examples I can think of: First, you churchgoers, just ask your children or grandchildren how many in their class are regular church goers/members. You will find a large majority are not actively participating in church life even though they may report they “belong” to a faith community.

Second, the county of Northampton has actively visited church properties in Northampton county to determine if any church owned property can be determined as “non-religious” use and therefore taxable by the county. Even a decade ago, the county would not have pursued such avenues respecting the “place” of church in society.

I point this out, not to complain, but rather to illustrate how the Church’s place in society as changed! Do you feel it coming? This, Ferebee argues, is our opportunity as Church to follow God’s lead to renewal. The maintenance mode of institution we once enjoyed and worked for many years now gives way to the opportunity to understand ourselves anew as a missional entity, or even a movement!

Ferebee’s challenge to us as we ponder a new way of being.

Are we consumers of a programmatic institutional church with offerings that meet our needs? OR Are we seeking to organically grow and mature in faith as people discovering and growing in the teachings of Jesus, yearning as mature disciples to confidently discern God’s movement in the world and “jump in”?

None of this is new in thought to most of you. We pray we have always been mindful of our call to be missional in the world. That is seeking God’s will and Kingdom in our lives and in loving and serving our neighbor.

However, I am most mindful of the tension between what it means when we say “we belong” to a church and what it means to say “We are the Church”.

We enter this Lenten season blessed in this Cathedral community. We clearly live still with the vestiges of the “Christendom” church. Our building is profoundly beautiful and exudes permanence. Our liturgical and worship offerings are carefully crafted and offer varied opportunities for the lifting of souls and worship of God. Our Music is beautiful, diverse, and attractive to a broad spectrum of participants. Our formation and fellowship allow for growth, insight, learning, and delight in one another. YET………….

The Lenten challenge I offer is for your discernment as you participate in what we do together and what you might do on your own in your Lenten discipline. “Consumer or Disciple”……..”attending or becoming” the Church. Ponder your spirit and reflect on what grows you organically as a follower of Christ, maturing you as a disciple who confidently discerns God’s movement in the world and invites you to “Jump in”.

Please share with me what you learn.

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