Do we have churches that are rotting on the vine? So many of our churches (I’m speaking of South Africa, but it might well be true elsewhere as well) seem to be dwindling in membership, but, even more importantly, in zest for life. They seem to be turning inward, rather than outward. The members know and associate only with each other, and there is almost no contact with the community within which the church is placed.
Some responses that I have observed include launching what are called “outreach” programmes, by which members mean going out to bring people to the church (often, to let the minister’s preaching convert them!). A desperation tactic is to propose merging with another dwindling congregation – say, a Methodist church merging with a nearby Anglican or Presbyterian church. A popular one is to try to revive the congregation by holding teaching workshops such as an “Alpha” course, or “Disciple”. Sometimes this actually works, for a while. But the fundamental inward-facing attitude may not have changed.
We as the Church of Christ are not placed in the world primarily to comfort one another (although we are called to encourage one another in the work of God). We are not called to cling so exclusively – and fearfully! – to the Vine that we forget to bear fruit in the world. Out purpose in abiding in Christ (John 15) is to bear fruit, and the fruit that we bear is not to refresh ourselves, but to refresh others, to draw others nearer to the source of love of Whom we are but a reflection.
I have a vision of a new approach to church, one that goes out from the building. I see a pastor leading the flock, not inside to the altar but out and into the community (by personal example first). I see church members whose service is not pouring tea for the members after the service, but “washing the feet” of the hoboes at the soup kitchen, members who are offering their homes (rather than the church buildings!) as places of safety to abused women and children, members who are speaking with prostitutes and convicts, not in their own righteousness but in love and concern for the well-being of those who are different, desperate, and often despairing.
After giving yourself to Jesus Christ comes giving yourself to others for His sake.