For those who dislike Paul, your cure may be today’s reading in Colossians. This is a man who is completely dedicated to the task at hand. His commitment to Christ almost brings tears to my eyes.
Not only does he “rejoice in [his] sufferings” but he offers an image of complete surrender: “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.” He sees his life, not as his own, but that of the Church’s – the body of Christ.
As I travel throughout Maumee Valley Presbytery, I encounter many who are pouring their heart and soul into building up the body of Christ. It is overwhelming some days. To me it is a sign of the resurrection. The dedication, the commitment, the submission to Christ that is see gives me hope in the human race, and in Christianity for the 21st Century.
The church is growing by leaps and bounds in South America and Africa. It will not surprise you to hear the same has not been the case in North America. And despite the rumors, the “mega” churches are not growing either. They come. They go. The data supports they are similar to mainline churches – slowly trending downward.
But not so in South America and Africa! The Church is experiencing growth – profound growth. And no, it is not “contemporary worship” that gets the headlines. Which churches are growing? It is the Roman Catholic Church. It is the Presbyterian Church in Africa that is growing. Joel Olsteen is not the face of the growing Church in Africa, it turns out. Pentecostalism is on the rise – hardly an expression of the prosperity gospel phenomena we see in America. The Orthodox Church in the USA is growing. Megachurches are in slow decline. Those are the facts.
I believe much of this has to do with commitment to the Holy Spirit at work. We have a culture that simply does not value submission and dedication. Many in our culture value individualism, adventure, and the taking of personal risk. This has little to do with submitting to the body of Christ, or building up something other than one’s self.
So when I reflect on the decline of some of our churches in North America, I don’t get too upset. Perhaps God needs to prune us a little. Perhaps the wheat and the tares need to be separated a bit. It also becomes a fair challenge that God has given us. It is not a time to lament, but a time to work – and submit – for the Holy Spirit.
I see that happening in Maumee Valley.
I see a number of our churches flourishing in ministry and mission. That is what happens when a church commits deeply to the Holy Spirit’s work in its neighborhood, and the lives of its members. I am thankful – not for the daring and bold new initiatives – but for the submission and selflessness that I see. I am most thankful when I see servanthood. I am thankful for those who consistently put themselves second, and dedicate and commit their time and talents to something greater – God’s commission and they mystery of Christ’s revelation to the world.
At the presbytery meeting we will hear some of the stories of this daring dedication. Come and see! 3pm. Tuesday. Waterville.