On the right side of myFacebook page this morning I noticed a list of advertisements offering several tricks and shortcuts to a better life. One promised a sure fire way to avoid a speeding ticket (don't speed, perhaps?); another one promoted a way for people who live in my state to pay lower insurance premiums; of course there was one offering the best way to meet that special person we are all looking for. In addition to these great opportunities I read this week how knowing the right 10 words can change an unruly child into an angel and for a reasonable fee I could learn those words. Believe me when I say that it didn't take my Dad 10 words to change my behavior when I was growing up.
What makes these ads so interesting is that there are people who will respond to them and spend their hard-earned money on these wonderful tricks to improve their lives. They appeal to the commonly held belief by many Americans that life should be easy and our lives can be improved quick and easy with little effort on our part. We want the quick and instant fix to our problems. We give our money to any snake oil salesman who promises to take away any pain or discomfort we may be feeling.
Sadly, that mindset exists in the church as well. Congregations want to see their church grow, but they don't want that growth to cause any pain. They want an exciting worship service with preaching that challenges them and helps deepen their faith, but it must end by noon. Most would like to see their sanctuaries full of people, but they shouldn't be expected to invite their friends and family (after all, one's religious beliefs are private you know). Every church would like a growing youth group as long as it doesn't contain any youth with problems and the youth who attend knows how to act in church. When looking for a pastor they always claim they want one who will grow the church with new members, but he or she must keep regular office hours in case a member needs to get in contact, he or she must regularly visit the hospitals and nursing homes in the area to call on the members, attend all the board and committee meetings, and then any spare time can be spent reaching out to the unchurched in the community. The congregations are looking for a shortcut to a more effective ministry that will grow their church and ease their pain.
Some pastors are just as guilty. Many go to conferences and attend workshops hoping to find some magic formula or shortcut to a more effective ministry. I certainly advocate that clergy and lay leaders should attend conferences and workshops, and I lead several each year myself, but the purpose of attending them is not to find some trick that will make your church the next mega-church and you the next superpastor.
The fact is there are no shortcuts to an effective ministry. Ministry is hard work for both the pastor and the congregation. There are no 10 magic words that can be uttered; there is no easy way to impact the community for the Kingdom of God without leaving the comfort of your office; there is no way of growing your church without it going through some pain and discomfort. To take the gospel to those who need to hear it will require that we go where they are. We can't unlock the doors of our church each Sunday morning and wait for them to come to us. Someone I once read said we will have to learn to sit in the smoking section if we want to reach people with the gospel.
To effectively minister to many people today will require that we enter into their world, a world that is often filled with pain and a world in which we may not be comfortable. We may see and hear things that we would prefer to not see and hear, but that is the world in which some people for whom Jesus Christ gave His life live. It is also the world, in one degree or another, in which you and I once lived. Someone entered our world, introduced us to Jesus Christ, and led us to a relationship with Him that forever transformed our lives. That is what you and I are now called to do. There are no tricks. No shortcuts. Just a lot of hard work, but if even one person has a life changing experience with Christ it is worth it.