I got a bee in my bonnet this week. A new church is starting in an adjoining town, and they've put up yard signs in our community...of course, that is their right. However, within a 3 mile radius, we have at least 9 churches. I digress. My bee came to my bonnet with the media coverage...a recent article noted that "There are many churches in and around Smithfield....so why start a new church?" The answer from the new church's pastor was, "I would actually agree that the last thing Smithfield needs is another place where people simply gather on Sunday morning - if that is all we accomplish, then that is not a worthwhile mission." He went on to talk about wanting to "make a difference."
I realize that as a pastor of a church that is over 140 years old, I can be overly sensitive about new church starts. I also realize that the institutional church has earned its reputation of being judgmental and unwelcoming. When we are more interested in our building than in serving, we earn a bad reputation. When we are more interesting in sin management rather than transformation, we earn a bad reputation. When we are more interested in judging and leave no room for questions, we earn a bad reputation.
And, yet, the church I serve is not this way. As I scroll through our church facebook page pictures, I find plenty of evidence that we are out and about...all the time! We are indeed making a difference in our community.
Even the larger institutional church has made and continues to make a difference. The larger church has made a difference in medical care with many of our hospitals having their financial start from institutional churches. Disaster relief often comes from funds provided by the institutional church. The means to have clean drinking water is often provided and funded by the institutional church. Blankets for refugees and the homeless are given by the institutional church. Counseling services, medical care, emergency food, emergency shelter, help with power bills...all supported by the institutional church. Worship services after tragedies like the Charleston tragedy, the Orlando tragedy, 9/11...offered by the institutional church. Many efforts to change policy to address homelessness, poverty, sickness, and how we treat strangers are spearheaded by the institutional church.
And, frankly, my faith was born and nurtured in the institutional church - perhaps not a church I would wish to belong to today, but as a child, the institutional church taught me that "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know," and I should help people. That is a great foundation.
I guess I just felt all lumped in with this misconception that area churches only gather on Sunday mornings without any intent of making a difference. That is just not true. Many of our established churches are very intentional in getting to know their communities, befriending their communities, and being an active, helpful part of their communities.
The article also noted that "you won't see a suit and tie wearing preacher here. Pastor...will usually be seen wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt." Newsflash: you won't see a suit and tie wearing preacher at WMCC either. You'll see a woman in a robe.