A mother went to wake her daughter for church services one Sunday morning. She knocked on her daughter’s door and said, “Honey, time to get ready for church.” Her daughter pulled the covers up over her head and told her mom, “I’m not going!” The mother returned a few minutes later and told her daughter again that is was time to get ready. She yelled again, “I’m not going!” The third time mom came back, she found her daughter sitting on the edge of the bed and said, “Young lady, it’s time to get up or else we’re going to be late,” and for a third time the daughter emphatically said, “I’m. not. going”. Finally, the mom asked “Why not?”
“I’ll give you two good reasons,” the daughter said. “One, they don’t like me. Two, I don’t like them.”
Her mother replied, “I’ll give you two good reasons why YOU WILL go to church. One, you’re 46 years old…… And two, you’re the pastor!”
I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but the statistics are, well, unfortunate. Pastors and Deacons aside, worship participation is declining so rapidly in the United States that by the year 2020, more than 85% of Americans will NOT be worshiping at a church and weekend attendance will only be 8.5%. Established churches in mainline denominations, such as Lutheran, Methodist, and Baptist, are declining at a rate of 2% a year. While most young adults call themselves Christian, less than half practice their faith and those that do, only do so sporadically. And only about half say religion, any religion, is important in their lives. Among twenty to thirty year olds, only 15% embrace a strong religious faith, just about 30% believe in and perform some religious traditions, but at least 40% have no connection to any religious tradition at all. Believing in God is not the issue. Believing God matters is the issue.
According to the book, entitled, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore,” – which is pretty direct title – there are four reasons people don’t attend church services any more:
They don’t want to be lectured.
They see the church as judgmental.
They see the church as hypocritical.
They see the church as irrelevant.
People do not attend church because they see it as irrelevant. As optional. As unnecessary. That’s because in their minds church is defined as a weekly event to attend. In other words, they see worship service as irrelevant, optional, and unnecessary. How many times have you heard people say, “I don’t have to go to church to be with God.” True, but…
Instead, we need to help our children, grandchildren, neighbors, best friends, co-workers, maybe even our parents and spouses, that “church” is who we are as Christians and not just one day a week. We need to change how we talk about what we do as Christians. For instance, if someone asked you what family is, you would not say, “Oh that’s what I attend when I come home from work”. Family is not an event. Family is family. You don’t go to “family”. Church needs to be thought of in the same way.
How do we help people grow in their commitment to their faith and to church? How do we show them that Christians are not judgmental, nor hypocritical, and that we are not going to lecture them? We do that through relational ministry! Relational ministry is ministry based on relationships. Every one of us is a minister of the church. Martin Luther taught us that we are all to be ministers. In relational ministry, we all play a significant role.
Relational ministry focuses on the who. This is the place we discover who God is, who God is calling us to be. The “Who” is about us encountering Jesus Christ in our relationships with others. The number one rule of relational ministry is being with others rather than simply doing things with others.
Think about the Bible – what is the Bible full of? It is chocked full of stories about relationships. Relationships between brothers and sisters. Relationships with parents and children. Relationships between friends and relationships between enemies. Relationships between husbands and wives. Jesus’ relationships with his disciples and with his followers. And most importantly, God’s relationship with God’s children. In relational ministry, just as God is with and for us, God calls us to be with and for each other.
I know I’m mixing up the holidays, but when you think of Saint Patrick, his images conjures up many legends. Some are based on his legendary life, and some are exaggerated tales. Patrick was born in Britain. Although his father was a deacon, and his grandfather a member of the clergy, he was not brought up with a strong religious education, which was a source of embarrassment for him. Patrick was kidnapped in his teens by pirates and brought to Ireland.
During his years in slavery, he tended sheep and saw his enslavement as God’s test of his faith. Patrick is said to have had dreams that Irish children were reaching out to him asking for his Christian guidance. He escaped 6 years later, supposedly wander in the wilderness for a month, may have been kidnapped again, but eventually made his way back to his family in Britain. Patrick then entered the priesthood and become a bishop, and in 432AD, returned to Ireland as a missionary and he saw his vision come to be of converting pagans to Christianity.
Somewhere among the myths, legends, and the truth lies St. Patrick’s journey of his faith. We all have one. We all have a story of our faith and how it began, when and why it was tested, possibly a time it was lost and found, and lost and found again. Our faith journey is never a straight line, but one of mountains we climbed, hills we rolled down, and times we were stopped in our tracks. Today, I want you to discover your faith journey, and why our journey of faith matters to our family and friends, and especially to the youth and children in our lives. Hopefully your journey of faith does not include kidnapping, enslavement, or snakes.
This is one way you do relational ministry – by sharing your faith journey with others. The misconception that Christians are judgmental or hypocritical is because people believe we have never questioned our own faith and that we think we’ve lived perfect lives. We are all sinners. We are all saints. We have all had our doubts and questions about ourselves and our God.
Think about your own faith story. Drafting your faith story starts with some very simple steps, such as asking when you first went to church and who told you about Jesus Christ. It includes times when you have ever felt like your prayers were not heard and about the sacrifices you have made for your faith. It also is about the crisis points in your life and in your faith. Ask yourself, When have I grown? Where do I need to grow more in my faith?
I want you to write out your faith journey, tweak it, edit it, rewrite if need be. Then memorize it. But most importantly repeat it. Repeat it to everyone in your life who needs to know that your path to your faith has not always been easy. Let others know you have had your own struggles and how you aim each day to be Christ-like. Maybe it is still a bumpy road. Hopefully, you are helping others and have a great peace in your life because of your faith and God’s love for you and the sacrifice made by our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Another important way to help others see that the church IS relevant and NOT hypocritical is to be a faith mentor to others. As a faith mentor, you walk with others as they live out their faith journey. Sit with them in their struggles and their joys. Offer your presence in their faith journey and in their lives. Acknowledge their pain and offer your sympathy and empathy. Celebrate how God is working in their lives and when they are Christ-like.
Characteristics of a Faith Mentor:
- Be available – you don’t have to be a trained Bible scholar, simply be available with timely and godly advice. Know that sometimes “I’ll pray about it” is the best response to begin decision making.
- Be a listener- God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Don’t feel you have to dish out advice or offer your opinion about everything. It could be that your mentee simply needs to get it out or feel validated.
- Be real – Be genuine, be honest.
- Be an example – Show you are trustworthy and demonstrate your love for God and others.
- Be a teacher – Challenge your mentee and encourage her to do things on her own.
- Let your mentee ask questions. And understand that it’s ok to not have the answers!
This year, the Women of the ELCA challenged all Lutheran women to act boldly on their faith. From their newsletter is says, “Whether we live out our bold story of faith in the workplace, family home, or community, our faith compels us to make a difference in the lives of others. It’s all about living out our baptismal call, about being a disciple of Christ.” By sharing your faith story and being a faith mentor, I am challenging all of you to act boldly on your faith.
I want to end my message today with a story. A story about my nephew, Ashton.
For several days leading up to his 4th birthday, my nephew, Ashton, began asking about God. It started when he was reading a children’s book about the Bible with my mom, better known as MeeMee. In his book, there were drawings of Jesus, of Moses, and of Noah, but not one picture of God. He first asked MeeMee, “What does God look like? Where’s God’s picture?” Eventually, he asked the ultimate question: “What is God?” No matter what answer MeeMee gave him, Ashton could not be satisfied. At the end of the day when Ashton’s mother came home, he went running. As the door opened, he stopped right in front of her. Looking up at her with his brown eyes the size of saucers, he asked her the same questions he had peppered MeeMee with all day. My sister-in-law looked at my mom, and Mom looked at her, and Mom said, “Your turn!”
And so my friends, I simply say to you – it is now YOUR turn. Amen.
Dean, K.C. (2010). Almost Christian: What the faith of our teenagers is telling the American Church. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Dean, K. C., & Foster, R. The Godbearing life: The art of soul tending for youth ministry. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books.
Roberto, J. (2010). 2020 Faith formation: Designing the future of faith formation. Naugatuck, CT: LifelongFaith Associates.
Root, A. (2009). Relationships unfiltered: Help for youth workers, volunteers, and parent on creating authentic relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Root, A. & Dean, K.C. (2011). The theological turn in youth ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Smith, C. (2005). Soul searching: The religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.