Today I marked off visit number 35 to our churches as I make my way around the presbytery during what is beginning to feel like a whirlwind tour. I had always heard that the geographical nature of our presbytery was a challenge to making meaningful connections and now I have the worn tires and the aching back to prove it as I shuttle my body around this beautiful place we call home.
I have promised you that for a time—whether that is for a few months or a few years—I am going to write my way into our emerging vision. Each week I am writing this blog post as I reflect on our lectionary texts, the conversations I am having with churches, the experiences I am having in your communities and good old-fashioned prayer and discernment. This week the lectionary text collided with what has become the most common question that I am hearing from our congregations.
“Brian, what can you tell us about how to attract the people of our community to our church?”
Isn’t it interesting that in our lectionary text for Sunday, April 22 is this juicy tidbit from John 10:16 where he says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
It is interesting to see the contrast between our question about trying to attract people into the fold and Jesus’ promise to bring people into the fold. There seems to be something missing in translation, right? If Jesus was serious about this “one flock, one shepherd” promise then why isn’t he doing more to fill our Presbyterian pews. Or maybe the problem isn’t Jesus. Maybe we should be doing more to make sure that Jesus’ voice is heard loud and clear. Or maybe we aren’t the problem. Maybe those “other sheep” are just more stubborn than Jesus and we ever imagined.
Or maybe none of these are the problem. Maybe we have forgotten that the fold is not a church, but is a community. Maybe we have forgotten that the “good shepherd” wasn’t interested in membership, but seemed more interested in bringing people together in unity (one flock, one shepherd). Maybe we need to remember that Jesus didn’t expect people to come to him. He went to them.
Maybe sheep prefer pastures to buildings!