We Have Been With Jesus
If your Bible is handy, open to Acts 4:1-21. This text is about Peter and John and their encounter before the Council in Jerusalem. They are questioned about a healing that Peter did and by what authority they claim to do these kinds of things. During the deliberations, it becomes clear they are recognized as “ordinary men who had no special training” and they were recognized as people who had been with Jesus. I wonder, sometimes…“How do people today recognize that we are people who have been with Jesus?”
If our congregations and our thinking about our faith display a ‘maintenance’ mentality, then neighbors – visitors – families of the baptized will not likely recognize us as people who have been with Jesus. Why do I say this? Let’s ask ourselves: Do we believe in an abundance of scarcity? Jesus and the disciples did not have savings or an endowment to rely on. Jesus took a few loaves and fed 5,000 on one occasion and 4,000 on another. Are we content with the status quo? Are we satisfied with the tried and true? Is our primary focus on survival? Do we believe that taking care of our members is the priority of our program and ministry?
What am I getting at here? I have been taught that a mission-focused ministry believes in a theology of abundance (look how much I have; what can I give away?). It looks for the imaginative and the new. It is relationship-oriented. It is committed to change and growth.
Surely, these last items would apply to Peter and John. They never questioned if enough offerings were coming in; they simply engaged in ministry. They weren’t afraid to take risks as they were talking to the Council. Their witness was clear, bold, and spoken with conviction.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.” (Acts 4.13)
How did they recognize them as companions of Jesus? They are recognized because their witness about Jesus was clear, bold, and spoken with conviction. In a recent training seminar I attended, I learned that when researching healthy, growing congregations, the researchers found three common characteristics:
1. These congregations had a sense of God’s purpose.
2. These congregations had a willingness to change for the sake of the Gospel.
3. These congregations were committed to shared leadership, i.e. the pastor does not do all the work, represent the congregation by him/herself or act as the maintenance person who keeps everything in order.
Dr. Walt Kallestad (pastor of a very large Lutheran congregation and a church planner) wrote:
“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church. I’m recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on a town garbage heap, a crossroads of politics so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek . . . because that’s where he died and that’s what he died about.
Many congregations believe they can transform their congregations by adding a contemporary worship service or importing a program or using the latest technology. These things are important, but not what it’s about. If at the very heart there is not a passion to be in mission, none of it will make any difference. Leaders are replaced and new ideas come and go; people change and programs die. What do we need to be or become in order to really make a difference? We are called to be a missionary in mission developing mission centers in our communities and throughout the world.”
Consider this motto for your congregation. What would happen if this became an important part of your focus as a guide: “Others first!”
This would be how people would recognize that we had been with Jesus.
+Pastor Paul Koch
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600