Neither death nor disagreement has the final word
About a year ago I was reading another religious publication, The Alabama
Baptist. This denominational newspaper is a great example of what religious
publishing is about. That particular day, I was enticed by the topic of a letter to
the editor: small church vs. big church ministry.
The author of the letter was a retired pastor who had served a number of
churches that averaged “from 12 to 85 in Sunday School.” He was responding to
a perceived slight in an article that had appeared in the previous issue. He says:
Let me ask you this: Is a 24-average [attendance] Sunday School church that
gives 26 percent of its undesignated funds through the Cooperative Program
smaller than a 1,200-average attendance church that gave three percent that
same year? … So, let me offer this definition: A church is small, regardless of
the number in attendance, because it fails to carry out the Great Commission
and minister to those in its community. The Lord isn’t going to say, ‘Well done,
thou good and large church,’ or even, ‘thou good and small church.
I will leave the big church-small church discussion for a future column.
Certainly it’s a fascinating topic.
But I am more interested in how we draw our allegiances or experience our
commonality as a church. It is natural for us all to seek “our tribe,” even as we
talk about being post-tribal. Within our congregations, our affinity might be
common politics or a similar position on a social issue. It might be our ethnic
identity. Or, it could even be church size.
My question: Does our common Lutheran identity meet the needs of these
times? Are we still a tribe — even across the various church bodies?
I guess, as we head into assembly season, it is good to remember our common
heritage since we will certainly look at our differences. (I don’t say this to
minimize the differences or the importance of these differences. I just believe it
is not the final word … just like death.)
Uni-mindedness is not the goal. Unity in the body of Christ is. We can embody
God’s grace in the way we show care in our discussions, demonstrate concern
for our neighbors, and be creative in our listening. May we then hear those
words: “Well done.”