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A Letter from the Senior Associate Minister to Presbytery

Staying Focused on What Matters
June 19, 2014

Let’s think about the church.  I begin with a quote by theologian and teacher N.T. Wright:
“According to the early Christians, the church doesn’t exist in order to provide a place where people can pursue their private spiritual agendas and develop their own spiritual potential.  Nor does it exist in order to provide a safe haven in which people can hide from the wicked world and ensure that they themselves arrive safely at an other-worldly destination.  Private spiritual grown and ultimate salvation come rather as the by-products of the main, central, overarching purpose for which God has called and is calling us.” (Simply Christian, pg. 203, N.T. Wright)

This past week, I celebrated my 31st year of ordained ministry.  The church was very different in 1983 when I received my first call.  Since that time, I have seen the church chase after various “fads” as answers to all its ills.  Churches of all theological stripes chased after church growth techniques and schemes as an answer to spiritual malaise.  Pastors tried a variety of teaching and preaching methods (e.g. inductive sermons, deductive Bible studies, storytelling techniques, expository proclamation, etc.) all in anattempt to make the Word of God more palatable and relevant to potential “seekers” who dared darken the door of their church.

Many churches went through a phase of deciding that the “customer” is always right and, in the process, lost their soul, the center of their reason to exist.  Therapeutic models of community only engrained the idea in people’s minds that the church’s main focus was to help each person fully develop their own spiritual potential and private theology in order to live a full and happy life.  Community life was diminished as focus on the individual’s private faith journey toward ultimate fulfillment was emphasized.  Many churches continue to seek quick fixes that will “fill the pews” and “fill the offering plate.”

Are these things to be the main focus of the Church of Jesus Christ?  The Church is changing, particularly the church in North America.  We live in a culture that measures success in numbers and dollars.  N.T. Wright pushes back on this notion reminding us that the church does not exist to meet private spiritual agendas, but to attend to God’s agenda.  We gather each week, not to praise our own potential and triumphs, but God’s handiwork, creativity, love, and victory over the powers that attempt to “corrupt and enslave” (p.204) the world.  We are not to be about serving special interest groups and agendas, but serving Jesus who is calling us, not into an escape from the world, but into a new engagement by the Spirit, to “heal and renew it.”

In a world of spiritual chaos, where the future lasts no longer than an Instagram or Snapchat, let’s remain focused on those things that matter most, and are eternal.  May we seek in ministry to remain focused on God’s desired future for the church!

In Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Portz, Senior Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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