Last night we had a church council meeting where we discussed which ministries were growing, which were weren’t but could, and which ones needed to end. Every church I have ever known constantly has conversations about how do we grow and get new people. The Methodist Church’s focus on numbers always makes my spirit feel uneasy and that we are treading to close to being concerned about what the world thinks is important as opposed to what God values. I am not against reaching new people, but often our conversations become centered around the fact that everything we do needs to be geared towards gaining new members. Seldom do our conversations center around how do we as the church engage in a bold prophetic critique of events happening in our world while modeling an alternative vision for how to live in this world and inviting others to join us. Which, now under a new president, we are quickly seeing many opportunities that the church needs to prophetically respond to.
As I was traveling home last night I couldn’t help but just feel exhausted over the ways the youth ministries were mentioned in this conversation. I know we are not growing numerically. I get that. But man, it is hard to hear that though. While people mentioned the youth ministry is very important and there was no mean spiritedness at all about their sharing that it’s not growing, it still is hard to hear. I deeply love the youth I get to work with, and I love the things we are trying to do. I do my best to pour my heart and soul out in ministry, but to be honest, at the end of the day, I have no idea how to make a ministry grow. I think part of our issue is that churches are so boxed in to a model that is decades old and it’s difficult to break out of that model. But to make one grow, who really knows how to that expect God?
But one thing I often notice around church growth conversations is that they so often center on our efforts. What new strategies can we implement? What are the latest business, marketing, and leadership ideas can we incorporate? And so on. But what I hardly ever seem to hear is how God plays a part in it. We are desperate to make our churches grow so they don’t die and yet the spirit and presence of God seem to not come into the picture.
So as I was driving home I just felt like praying but not couldn’t find the words to say. So I listened to this beautiful cover of Stay With Me by Sam Smith, sung in this version by Black Violin. They changed several of the lyrics up a bit and as I was listening it was a perfect ministry song of lament. This crying out that there are things we don’t understand, our ministries don’t go as planned and we are just pleading God, stay with me. I need you now. It’s love and your all I need. Deep down we need this thing to work, please don’t leave. God, stay with me; stay with us.
I love the youth I get to work with every week and I am so grateful that they are a part of my life and faith journey. So maybe, if God stays with me, and I attune my heart to the Spirit’s presence I can figure out how to love them well, how to be a faithful model and guide of someone trying to live out their faith as a (in the words of Brian McLaren) contemplative and activist (which I hope to be one day).
I am thankful to God for the gift of music and the way God speaks to the depths of our souls through music. I am thankful that God’s presence is with us. I pray I can faithfully tune my life to the ever surrounding presence of God. If I spend more of my time intentionally in the presence of God then I will more naturally love these youth better and be a better pastor to them, for them, and with them.
Thank you God for listening to the depths of my soul, for understanding me, and for staying with me.