Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sharing Hope and Giving Thanks

by Jeanie McGowan

Who can pay any attention to the media at all these days and not be aware that there is a growing concern about the future? During this season of the year when our thoughts become a bit more focused on those things for which we give thanks, I'm especially grateful to have many things that cause me be thankful and have hope. I'm also painfully aware that there are many around me who don't seem to find many things that give them cause for hope.

What does that mean to our churches? What is the responsibility of the church within the community to be a part of bringing hope to those who feel hopeless? This question is debated frequently in both the media and in the coffee shops. What role does government play and what role does the faith community play in offering solutions to some of the huge problems we face today? Sometimes they seem so overwhelming it seems easier to just ignore them and pretend they don't exist, if they don't affect me personally. But then, as people of faith, we look to Holy Scripture to inform us and teach us what God would want us to do and to see modeled for us what Jesus actually did. When we seriously do that, it's impossible to overlook the hundreds of verses (more than 1,000!) that address these issues!

Caring for people and their basic needs should not be a "Democrat" or "Republican" issue, but rather a moral, godly expectation of those who say they are people of faith and followers of Christ. When we are more and more linked to one another across the globe, we cannot turn our backs or stick our heads in the sand and pretend that there are not inequities and injustice all around us. When children are dying from lack of food and water and there is enough food and water for all on this incredible planet, it is shameful! When a Congress in a nation blessed with abundance cannot set aside self-gratification and self-interest to honestly seek ways to solve some of our more serious problems, there is something terribly wrong.

So what does this say to your church and to mine? Aren't we already busy about keeping our doors open and tending to the weekly needs of our congregations? Where are we going to find the time to be interested in getting involved in our community? Don't we use enough energy trying to keep our congregations happy with worship style and comfort when they come together each Sabbath? How could a busy pastor or church member find time to spend a couple of hours in a coffee shop each week and get to know the people who work there and really listen to the people who come through the doors and find out what keeps them awake at night? How could an already overloaded staff member find time to mentor 2 people each week: one a longer-time member who seems to have some leadership abilities but isn't plugged in right now and the other a newer person in the church who could be a young leader developing if someone spent some time with her or him?

Those questions are honest concerns for most of us. But the truth is, that unless we figure out how to do that we are in the process of becoming completely irrelevant--a fossil in the future without a place to answer the call God has placed on our lives! It is not an exaggeration to say that most of our churches are within a decade or so of closing the doors. Read any current poll and you will see what the majority of people in our country think about "churches," "Christians," organized religion of any kind. It's pretty scary! They don't like us very much! Can we blame them? Look at what churches and what religious figures make the headlines most days. It's not a pretty picture!

However, those same people, when polled about what they think about Jesus Christ have much more positive responses--even when they don't really know that much about him. What they do know is that he loved people. He took time to be with people--ordinary people, even outcasts. They know that he, too, didn't like the picture he saw of "church leaders" and "religious folks" very much in his time! In fact, his words for them were much harsher than for the "sinners" whose paths crossed his every day.

I said all this to say that there is a way to begin making a difference in our communities, our state and even our nation. "Missouri Faith Voices" is an state-wide faith-based organization for bringing about change and hope where there is injustice and no hope (learn more at http://www.missourifaithvoices.org/). If you're interested in knowing more, contact Dr. Jim Hill at jimhill@thechurchnet.org. Once-a-quarter meetings are doable even for the very busy! One is coming up on Wednesday, Dec. 1 in Jefferson City. It could make all the difference...


You can contact Jeanie McGowan, Churchnet Leadership Development Team Leader, at (888) 420-2426, ext. 707 or jmcgowan@thechurchnet.org

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