This weeks Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Question is from Luke 11:46.
“Jesus says to the religious authorities of the time, ‘You load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.’ What burdens does the church carry or load on people today that it needs to ease?”
The major burden that the church often lays on people is focusing on its own needs instead of the needs it is designed to serve. The church is extremely important, but the church thrives as it gives itself away in mission and ministry (both to "members" and to "non-members"). When our church focuses on others, we can trust God will give us what we need for that work. When we focus on ourselves, we do not serve those who need us and we facilitate our own decline.
Here are a few examples:
Stewardship. We often find congregations linking budgetary needs and giving. God, however, is perfectly capable for sustaining any truly worthwhile ministry. All the money is, after all, already God's. We, as individuals, need to tithe for our own faith and financial well-being. We need to learn to trust God even with our bank accounts, and we need to put God first on our priority list in a way that happens more completely with first-fruits giving than with any other single spiritual discipline. Nobody needs the burden of keeping their church's heat on or roof repaired. We need the joy of tithing, along with the confidence that the church is there to generously aid those with emergency needs. The church's disciplines of stewardship can be a vehicle to exuberant generosity and financial freedom, not stress and anxiety.
Children's Formation. Too often, churches are try to shoehorn parents living 21st century lives in mid-20th century children and youth programs. A lot of energy and reminder emails are sent to round up the little ones for 9:00am Sunday School or a youth outing. While these can still be valuable, they do not work for many families. Instead of guilt, these families need resources that help them grow their own spiritual lives and form their children in ways they can access. The website Grow Christians is one way that family spiritual disciplines are being shared to reach people who aren't able to bear the burdens of traditional "family ministry."
Buildings. In the old days, church activities filled up every nook and cranny of the building, with new education wings built and basements transformed into classrooms and meeting rooms. Many of those spaces in our facilities are no longer used consistently, or used beyond once a week. Too often we still expect a declining number of people to maintain this property. Yet, as many churches have discovered, the community often has need of spaces like the church's. Various schools can use our Sunday school wings, families need places for graduation parties, showers, and other events, healthy eating groups need commercial kitchens to teach classes, and any number of non-profits need accessible meeting rooms with adequate parking. Smaller churches and church plants are also looking for worship space (often at a time that isn't Sunday morning). We can open up our churches to others, but not with an eye toward rental income. Ideally our goal is allowing people to be served by the church such that they become part of our extended church community. Instead of an income stream, we are offering people a chance to be part of our overall ministry -- loving God and loving neighbor. As we allow others to have a piece of ownership in our facilities by being part of who we are, we give people the opportunity to contribute and take responsibility our physical plant in whatever ways God prompts them. As we give away our buildings (at least for a scheduled time), we allow others to help us maintain them. When we burden our congregations by holding them tightly, we weigh them down with a very heavy load.