When it comes to the life and ministry of the church, the fall of the year is the time when the programming of the church comes back to life again. Church school, Confirmation, and choirs come back into session. Sunday morning and Wednesday evenings are filled with a new energy. Given what goes on in the church during the fall, it is a good and fitting thing to talk about growth and new life.
Not only is it a good thing to talk about growth, but it is a necessary thing. There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the state of decline in numbers and in activity throughout the Christian Church in North America. It is a condition that has affected almost all of our churches. We can respond to that situation by either denying that reality and by doubling down on the same old approaches to things, hoping that something will change (someone once said that this sort of thing is the definition of “insanity”) or we can open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, open ourselves to the future, and explore new possibilities. Within the churches of the United Church of Christ’s Wisconsin Conference we’ve wrestled with—and discussed at great length—the choice that is put before us concerning the future. The “Shift: From Maintenance to Mission” initiative has been a part of that discussion and it is a discussion that Salem’s leadership has begun having.
During a recent meeting of the Consistory’s Church and Ministry Committee we spent a good portion of our time together discussing the direction of the future. If one could sum up the most important thing to come out of that discussion it is that individuals, as well as the church community, must make the choice to grow. Growth is not something that can always be measured in raw numbers (like dollars or people in the pews), but can be seen in the quality and depth of our faith. Is God more a part of the center of our lives, or does God occupy the fringes?
What I am encouraging every member of Salem to do is to consider making a commitment to grow in his or her faith. I am not saying that it has to be big huge changes in our faith; sometimes we begin with small steps. That could be a commitment to pray more often, or study more scripture. It could be a decision to become more involved in one of the church’s ministries. It could be the choice to be a positive, caring witness of love in action in our workplaces or among our circle of friends. Whatever it may be, I am asking each of us to make the decision to grow and stretch ourselves a bit.
Now, I know that some of you will say, “Why should I have to grow? I’m too old for that sort of thing” or “I’m really comfortable with where I am now. Why should anything have to change?” My response is this: there are two states in living organisms. We are either growing and changing, or we are dying. Even for those of us who have reached physical maturity, our cells in our bodies continue to grow and become replaced. Our bodies are constantly changing. The moment that stops, we start dying. It really is that simple.
Growth needs to happen in our lives. There is always a push forward to birth and life.
For example, children cannot continue to gestate in the womb indefinitely. Eventually birth must occur, or else death ensues. The same thing holds from a spiritual standpoint, as well.
Can we make the commitment as individuals and as a congregation to grow, even in small steps? That is the question that I want each of us to prayerfully consider in these weeks ahead.
Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Jim Hoppert