Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Friends and Followers

I had to preach on Sunday morning in a difficult circumstance … the church had just lost its pastor, due to a number of indiscretions. I have not yet decided how to fill the gap left in the connection, so I took the service myself.

When I turned to the lectionary reading early in the week, I found a text that addressed another local church with its own problems and tensions. Colossians 3:12-17 urges a small congregation in a far-away time and place to put on compassion, forgive one another, love richly, and live in peace.

I thought it was a perfect opportunity to speak about the meaning of “church,” because, after all, a church is not defined by its pastor. In preparing the sermon, I came up with a nifty new definition of church: “A church is a group of friends who have decided to follow Christ together.”

That’s nice and simple, even if a bit light on the theology. Nothing about administering sacraments, or preaching and teaching. And, of course, no mention of buildings, bishops, or fundraising. We’ve made church so complicated, but in the end, it’s truly nothing more than a gathering of people who sort of like each other (if reluctantly), and who want to be disciples of Jesus.

I reminded the congregation that this was the true genius behind the Methodist movement in the first place – John Wesley was a university student who simply wanted to walk more closely with God, and he found a group of friends who agreed to help him do that. Whether they wanted to call it a “church” or not, that’s what they had created from the very beginning!

The amazing thing is that the small village crowd I was preaching to, seemed to eat it up! There were more than the usual amount of “amens” and nodding heads, even though there couldn’t have been more than 20 of us sitting in that tiny wood-plank building with the concrete floor.

Somehow the people in the crowd were truly inspired and dedicated. They didn’t know what to think about the fact that their pastor was no longer present in their midst; they still have some “issues” to work through. But they let me know in no uncertain terms that they wanted to stay together, and that they were a “group of friends who have decided to follow Christ together.”

Sounds good enough to me to keep the church doors open!