The final sermon series before the beginning of the 2018 advent season was a study through the troubling book, 1st Peter. I say it is a troubling book because it is largely about trouble, specifically the trouble we Christians should expect to face as we live faithful lives within a faithless world. While our clear preference would be to live free of pain and sorrow, this isn’t the promise we are given in scripture. Rather, Jesus clearly teaches that a life of faith is one which is willing to pick up our cross and to follow him (Luke 9:23). After all, says Jesus, the world hates him and so too will it hate us (John 15:18-25).
The observant reader may have noticed that I state that it was 1st Peter which was the troubling book, but both the references above are from the Gospels, and not 1st Peter. And you, oh reader, are correct. This is because Peter remains true to the teachings of Jesus in his letter. Within our lives difficulties will arise. And as in our own lives individually, so too within the church. Challenges, struggles, heartache, hardship - these ought not surprise us for we have been forewarned. And yet, it seems, we are always surprised.
So then what’s it all for? What’s it all about? Isn’t the Bible supposed to be “Good News”? Where is the “Good” within this News”?
Well, now I will quote from Peter’s letter, for he says:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
(NIV: 1 Peter 2:9)
My friends, we have been chosen out of this world into the promise of the world to come. We’ve been taken from the darkness into his wonderful light; and come what may, we can continue to live within this hope and expectation. And not only have we already been rescued from all that this world may do to us, even as some suffering may be yet to come …, we have also been raised up to a new life with a new purpose. Not only have we been redeemed from the darkness, we have been made royal priests.
Royal because we have been adopted into God’s family.
Priests, because we have be given a great commission. We are to go out into all the world and proclaim the truth of Jesus and his gift of salvation.
It is because we have been faithful to our position as royal priests that we have seen a wonderful revitalization of our congregation over the past many years. In the past 10 years we’ve had more baptisms than the previous 30 years combined! Such outreach and success is only found when we are faithful to the call God has given to his people. This is why we can celebrate that in 2018 we added 18 people as members of our church and nine of those were by baptism.
And yet …
While our trend has clearly been toward growth, evangelism, and new faith, 2018 was also a year of farewells. While we added 18 people by baptism, we have released 27 people from membership. There are a variety of reasons that people have left, including 5 of our faithful saints who have been welcomed into the arms of our Savior.
A good number have left us because they’ve sought out employment in other communities. The number of goodbyes grows even larger when we consider the people who have moved that, though regular attenders, never took the step of joining the church.
2018 is the first time in 13 years that we closed out the year with fewer members than with whom we began.
This loss is magnified by way of the unique demographics of our church, by and large we are missing two generations. The 9:30 service is predominately comprised of people who are part of the Builder Generation. The 11:00 is predominately comprised of people who are part of the Millennial Generation. We are sorely lacking in people who are part of the Boomer Generation and Generation Xers.
Of course the good news in this is that a decade ago we didn’t even have the Millennials, which we now do. And praise the Lord for that growth.
But because we have so few people in the age range of 40 to 65, we are missing much of the unique strengths that demographic would bring to our church. Speaking in generalities, that age range tends to be the years where we have the most free time to volunteer within the church because our kids are either in high school or have left the home. We also have the most freedom to be financially generous as we’ve established ourselves within our professions, but are not yet living on a fixed income. And by our 40’s to 60's we will have enough years under our belt, or perhaps hanging over our belts just a bit, that we bring a bit of extra wisdom and experience to the church.
Of course, as our Builder Generation knows all too well, the whippersnappers among us are gonna blink, and suddenly their 30’s will be behind them; and they’ll be in the midst of their 40’s with their 50th birthday staring them down. And they’ll wonder how they got there so fast.
So long as we keep pressing forward, true to the royal call of our priesthood, this is where we will find ourselves come the annual report for 2028. But, alas, that is still a decade away; and this is the report looking back on 2018 where our membership has declined, and families have moved away.
So, what are we to do? The answer is, we turn to scripture, and we heed the calling of our Lord. We continue to recognize that we are the ROYAL PRIESTHOOD. We take upon ourselves the challenge presented to Esther by her uncle Mordichi. Esther, faced with the challenge of standing for God’s People did not shrink away, but rose to the challenge, heeding the words of her uncle: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV: Esther 4:14).
We too have a royal position as priests within God’s kingdom. We know there will be challenges. We know there will be occasions to rise up and press onward. We know that we must never lose the urgency of reaching the lost with the hope of the Gospel; and we must be willing to surrender our desires to him, to do whatever he asks, and to give whatever he demands, that more would come to know him.
When our Children’s Ministry struggles for lack of teachers; when our volunteer positions remain vacant; when our budget struggles to meet expenses; when our pews appear more empty than full on a Sunday morning this is our opportunity to rise up to our royal position, and to remember our call to “Lead People in an Ever Changing Culture to the Hope of Jesus.”
For to such a time as this, you have been appointed to the royal priesthood of God. Let us go forth, and declare Jesus to a world lost in sin and darkness; and which is in desperate need of being brought into the light.
- Pastor Tim