What we do that no one else does

On Sunday, I preached at a Sunday night Lenten service about the need for spiritual accountability. The point was that, left to ourselves, we talk ourselves into – or let the devil talk us into – all kinds of bad ideas. The pastor at the host church reached out to me afterward and said he wants to talk about ways we might build on that message. I had a couple of lay members also express some interest in the kind of Wesleyan spiritual accountability groups that I mentioned in the preaching. So, that was a good evening, but one that I need to build upon if it is to bear any fruit. I’m great at beginnings; I’m not so strong on follow through.

The sermon idea arose out of a conviction I’ve been feeling recently that my ministry has provided a fair amount of care to others but not much in the way of growth. I think part of this conviction arises after three funerals in the last month at the two churches I serve. When you put a person in the ground, it gives you pause to reflect on whether you’ve done what you should have done as their pastor, which, of course, gets to issues of pastoral identity.

I’ve been on such a long journey when it comes to pastoral identity, not long in time, perhaps — I’ve been preaching close to 8 years now – but long in theological distance. If you had told me in 2007 that the role of the pastor is to get people ready to meet their maker, I would have wondered where the tent meeting revival was that you’d wandered away from. I am a spiritual child of American university towns and mainline Protestantism. In my world, churches existed to comfort and soothe and perhaps provide an organizing point for good works. The primary message was that God loves you because you are loveable and God loves everyone else even if they are not loveable. I’d never heard in a church I attended any preacher suggest that his or her job was – as John Wesley would put it – to save souls.

And yet, I am persuaded more and more that saving souls is precisely the only thing that the church does – or facilitates – that no other institution can do or cares to do. We have lots of community building groups and political action groups and counseling groups. Many of them do what the church tries to do in these areas much more effectively than the church does. What we do that we alone do is teach, lead, and encourage people on to salvation.

So, on Sunday, I tried to preach a message that would both convict and encourage the Christians who are serious enough about their faith to come out on Sunday night for a second worship service. It was a small fraction of the membership of the six congregations that are hosting these Lenten services. But like the handful of those who expressed interest in accountability groups, I find myself drawn to the thought that these are the ones who most need my attention because they are the ones most earnestly seeking something deeper and more than what passes for Christianity in our culture today.

When I get back from Spring Break, I’m going to follow up with that pastor and with the few individuals who responded to the sermon. Or, at least, that is my goal.


10 thoughts on “What we do that no one else does

  1. You are on the right tract here, John! My wife (ironically, a UMC Licensed Local Pastor) participates enthusiastically in a “Life Group” of women at a nearby mega-church. What they have developed in a transferable small-group leadership model. If my wife were not so “head over heels” about her experience at this church, I wouldn’t bother to recommend you take a look at this model. But she is nourished by what she participates in, and it has TRANSFORMED her own ministry style. Take a look: http://stonechurch.us/leader-resources/.

  2. John, I would be very nterested in the passage you used for this sermon. I have been looknig for a way to introduce this subject to the church I servr Ed Beedle

    1. It was not an exercise in great exegesis. I used Exodus 20:1-17, but put emphasis on how the law is used to help us see how we are doing in our discipleship.

  3. I’m glad you added “or facilitates” by saying that the role of the church is to “save souls.” But I admit I disagree. It’s God’s job to redeem God’s creation. It’s the job of the church to learn to worship this Holy One who calls us to a live of sacrificial discipleship. For that, nothing works better than small group accountability where trust reigns and transformation happens. Such a structure in indeed a means of grace.

    1. Transformation into what? Is it possible you mean the same thing I do but use different words?

  4. May I suggest Kevin Watson’s The Class Meeting as an introduction to the spiritual transformation group we Methodists used to call a “class meeting”? It’s a great read and I’m looking forward to using the study guide it includes in my own small church.

  5. “…saving souls is precisely the only thing that the church does – or facilitates – that no other institution can do or cares to do…What we do that we alone do is teach, lead, and encourage people on to salvation.” Precisely correct. Evangelism is the singular core mission of the Church. Small groups such as are found in Sunday School, Bible studies, etc. are proven effective for reaching, teaching, winning and developing men, women, boys and girls for Christ. Everything else is… everything else.

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