22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23) As you probably know, this church chooses a theme for each year.  This year's is "Changing Lives Through Jesus."  One of our previous themes was "Let the little children come to me..."  Throughout that year we focused on the many ways we are called to minister to the children among us.  We reminded each other how much Jesus loves children.  We reminded ourselves that this congregation has A LOT of children and how it seems that God is calling on us to focus on our ministry to children.  We highlighted all of the different ways this church cares for kids. Sometimes I feel like it's our theme every year.  I love this year's theme and mission, but I look around and it's clear to me that our mission to care for children hasn't changed.  And I'm so thankful that there are so many in this congregation who haven't forgotten that either.  Long before we ever had a theme that highlighted our ministry to kids, there were people who worked tirelessly to care for the many children that God brings our way.  And, even though that theme has come and gone, the ministry continues. Last week reminded me of that.  If you look around the auditorium you'll see evidence of it.  You'll see the stage is decorated to look like a farm.  You'll see kids covered in fading tattoos that remind them to "Chews Love" and "Jump for Joy." It was all a part of VBS 2008-a week where over 50 kids came here every day to have fun and learn about Jesus.  They made crafts.  They played games.  They had snacks.  They sang, REALLY LOUDLY.  And they learned about Jesus. All week, the kids learned about how God grows fruit in our lives.  The fruit you can see talked about in the quote above.  But, more than learning about it, they saw it.  They saw it in all of the people who took care of them-the people who showed love, the people who exhibited patience, the people who filled their lives with joy. This morning, we're going to look at that those same fruits.  It's a pretty great way to talk about how God changes lives.  And showing those fruits is a pretty great way to teach our kids about them.  I'll say more about that later on.  For now, let me just say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.  To those who have already demonstrated the fruits of the spirit this week.  God Bless you.

Bar the Exits?

The most recent issue of The Christian Chronicle, contains an excellent editorial by Bobby Ross, Jr. He’s commenting on a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (If you have time to kill, follow the link and check out all of the interesting surveys, polls, and descriptions of American religious life.) In particular he comments on a finding from the US Religious Landscape Survey that says about 44% of Americans have changed religions from the one in which they were raised (if they were raised in one at all).

That means that nearly half of the American public will change their religious affiliation at some point in their lifetime. He notes that Churches of Christ are not exempt from this. A recent survey conducted by the Harding Center for Church Growth estimates that only 60% of those who grew up in the Churches of Christ remain with the CoC into adulthood. Further, he astutely asserts that, if we were to investigate the numbers of people who have changed churches rather than denominations, the number would sky rocket.

So how do we react to this? Ross notes two reactions. I can identify with both of them.

One possible response is worry, anger and blame. He has a quote from a minister who attributes the shifts in membership to a younger generation that is short on commitment and tall on selfishness. They leave because they are looking for whatever scratches their particular itch.

I hate to say that I understand this impulse all too well. As a minister, I worry far too much about people coming and going. I especially take it personally whenever someone leaves our church to go to another local church.  I wonder why they choose “that” church over our church. What does that church have that we don’t? In my worst moments I get defensive. I tell myself that “those people” don’t know how to commit.

Let me be clear. I don’t like this reaction. I try not to worry about it too much, because I think that, for me at least, it’s just part of being me—occasionally insecure and defensive.  It’s become a good opportunity for honest, confessional prayer.

I prefer the other response that Ross points to. He includes a quote from Jeff Foster that is worth repeating:

People, by and large, are starved for a faith that is genuine and relational-based rather than institutional and traditional…People want to know Christ, not simply know about Christ.

Wow. He’s right. My best response—one that comes through God’s grace—is to remember what truly matters. It’s not our job to get more members. It’s not our job to create institutional loyalty. It’s not our mission to build the “Church of Christ.” It is our rather important task to introduce people to Jesus, and, as difficult as it may be for someone as neurotic as myself, let God worry about numbers and transfers.

After all, our mission is “Changing Lives through Jesus,” not “Engineering Brand Loyalty.” I wonder what would happen if we were to take Jesus’ advice and “Seek first his Kingdom” (Matthew 6:33).