The sun was just setting on our confirmation retreat as four local pastors swapped stories about life as a parish pastor. From the stories, one could conclude that the church as a whole is facing challenging times: downright depressing attendance trends, young adults leaving the church and not returning to church once they have children, an ever-growing secularization of society, and the sad list goes on. I myself shared my honest frustration with responding to parishioners who were slipping away from a vital connection to the body of Christ—those who at one time had attended weekly and were involved in various ministries, but now are seen only a handful of times a year, or not at all.
Since all four of us were from smaller centers, we all had experienced bumping into these MIA (missing in action) parishioners in our communities. What is the best approach to help invigorate their faith and connection to the body of Christ? When we see them at the grocery store, do we try to win them over with niceness? At the school assembly, do we tell them that we are praying for them? At the community event, do we straight out ask them what is going on in their faith? At the sporting event, do we invite them to a new program that the church is offering? It is hard to know what to do. We laughed at the witty remark of one pastor: “Yeah, we don’t have many tools left beyond guilt, shame and doughnuts.”
The world, the flesh, and the devil bombard us, the Church, with messages to abandon the body of Christ, to live life however seems best to us. As a result, too many of us embrace a “me-centered, consumer knows best” approach to life. The lie that comes with this way of thinking is that it is the responsibility of the local church to come up with bigger and better programs, productions or personalities to keep believers engaged. A strong focus on designing ministries to attract and retain consumer Christians is exhausting to pastors and parishioners, requiring loads of bucks and mega hours to maintain.
Recently, the Spirit broke through my thick head to try a different approach with a young guy named Mackenzie (he knows I am writing this article). Our church baptized him a year ago, but we hadn’t seen much of him since. After one of those random chats with him in a store (that left me once again frustrated), I sent him an invitation via text, “It was good to see you yesterday. I would like to meet with you to do a Bible study together. It could be the two of us, or others could join us. What are your thoughts?” This was a sheep of my fold that I feared was drifting away and could use a feast on God’s Word. To my delight, his reply was, “Sure, why not?”
How is this for cutting edge ministry? Two guys, sitting at a table reading through 1 Peter verse by verse. Radical stuff. After 45 minutes in the Bible, Mackenzie was open to meeting again the following week. I didn’t even have to bribe him with doughnuts! God amazed me once again in how he works through his Word. Rather than trying to convince Mackenzie of the benefits of returning to church, I watched God work through the first chapter of 1 Peter. God told Mackenzie that he is chosen, elect, sanctified through the Spirit and given an inheritance that will never fade (way better than doughnuts). When we came to 1 Peter 1:13, God encouraged him to live life with his hope set on the grace of Jesus. God reminded us both that the struggles in our lives help us relate to those Gentile believers who were scattered through the Roman Empire.
The experience of watching God gently call one us his own to once again embrace his identity as a living stone, precious to Jesus, one called out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:4-9)—it has brought me back again to the power of God’s Word. God loves to work through his Word. As I write this, we are four weeks into our study, God has brought Mackenzie back to re-engage with the body of Christ, and just last week he asked for a Bible to share with one of his friends that is seeking truth in their life. Go, God, go!
Guilt, shame and doughnuts: tools yielding temporary results. God’s Word: eternal and life-giving results. Hmm, which one should be our go-to tool? Well, Church (that includes you and me), we are facing challenging times. Yes, it is less challenging than what the original recipients of the letter of 1 Peter faced, but these are still unsettling times for today’s North American Church. We are in desperate need of the transformation that God brings through Scripture alone. Be prepared to be amazed!
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:9–11).
Rev. Dean Rostad has served as pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Brethren Church in Camrose, Alberta since 2006. This summer he will be transitioning to his new position as President of the Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute (CLBI), located in Camrose, Alberta.
To learn more about CLBI visit: www.CLBI.edu