One congregation I visited recently for a town hall meeting was lamenting the fact that they had so few young families with children participating in their fellowship while there were so many young families with children living in the neighborhood near their church.
One member even exclaimed, “I just don’t understand why young people are not coming to our church?” It was an honest question, to be sure, but I don’t believe it is the best one for congregations to be asking in the 21st century.
I think a better one is, “How can we ‘presence Jesus’ to the people God is calling us to?” And yes, I know “presence” is not a verb, but it is an adequate way to say what I’m getting at.
You see, “presencing Jesus” doesn’t have anything to do with a particular program, or fad, or preference one might have about an aspect of church life. It has to do with showing up in people’s lives so consistently and generously that they can’t help but feel something extra-ordinary is being shared through you, even the love and grace of God himself.
It has been said of the Church today that education is not our problem; training is. We know the right things to do but we’re terribly deficient in translating those beliefs into practice. We have the secrets of life, yet we hide them under a bushel.
We study. We learn. We hypothesize and theologize, but all too often we fail to act. At least in ways that cause people outside the Church to trust us at a profound level, or cause them to ask questions about what makes us tick, about what makes us think and love and care the way we do (1 Peter 3:15b).
As a tribe, Presbyterians are especially schizophrenic in this regard. We are infatuated with the “life of the mind,” which is necessarily inwardly focused, and at the same time, we are committed to the “Great Ends of the Church” which call us beyond ourselves and into the world.
Indeed, three of the six Great Ends of the Church are focused on those outside the Church: “the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind,” “the promotion of social righteousness,” and “the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world” (From the Book of Order F-1.0304).
That’s why I’m taking this moment to introduce you to an event that is coming up this June at the Presbyterian Church of the Master. Of all the training events I’ve attended, this is the one that has the most success in getting individuals and congregations off their campuses and into their neighborhoods. It’s called the “Awaken and Activate” training by Church Resource Ministries.
It doesn’t major in theology or philosophy or anything abstract. It majors on the Holy Spirit’s work in you, your whole life long, to equip you and your congregation to be God’s gift to the world.
What I like about it is that it takes God’s artistry seriously. There is no one like you in the whole world. The same can be said for your congregation. And there are things that you (and your congregation) are made to do, with and in the neighborhood to which you have been called, that no one else can do with quite the same tenderness, joy or restorative impact.
Make no bones about it, Awaken and Activate’s posture is decisively evangelical, even charismatic in spots. If you’re not of that ilk, I understand, but I hope your congregation will send at least a few members anyway, because what it has to offer is powerful beyond words.
For my money, and I’ve supported Church Resource Ministries for years, Awaken and Activate is the best investment a congregation can make if it truly wants to realize the missional potential of its members. Whoever attends will walk away with a concrete plan for how God can use them and their congregation to connect with people outside the church in ways uniquely suited to their giftedness and passion.
For disciples who have plenty of education but are in need of training, Awaken and Activate is a tremendous gift. There is a lot of talk these days about “being missional.” The Awaken and Activate process helps disciples move from talking to acting, from identity in Christ to being a light to the world.