Which one of these questions do you usually ask first?
Which one of these questions do we usually ask first at church?
A few months ago, Rev. Don Remick showed us a “TED Talk” demonstrating the difference between dynamic, growing organizations, and organizations that are stagnate and struggling. The struggling ones focus on “who,” “what,” and “how.” The dynamic, growing ones ask, first and foremost, “why:” Why does the organization exist? Why does the organization do what it does? Rev. Remick encouraged us to apply this thinking to the church. We spend most of our time trying to figure out the “who,” “what,” and “how.” But, as he suggested, we neglect to take the essential first step of asking “why” we are the church. Asking the question “why” compels us to explore the purpose and meaning of the church. Is the “why” spiritual or practical? Does the “why” include God, Jesus, and the Scriptures? Or is the “why” something else? I know how I would answer the question, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on why the church exists? Why does the church do what it does?
There is a certain urgency to this question. As many of you know, we have challenges in our 2017 budget. But here is the good news: a lot of churches in Massachusetts and throughout the country are having the exact same problem. We are not alone. At the Federated Church, we no longer want to take money from our endowments to balance the budget. This approach to budget management is not sustainable. As such, the Finance Committee, with the support of the Cabinet, recently made a commitment to engage in a visioning process in which we (i) consider our financial constraints and (ii) determine new programmatic priorities. Then we put (i) and (ii) together and see what we have created! But, in order to do this, we need to know our purpose as a church, our why. I hope you will help us determine our why!
We began this visioning in January and expect it will continue for much of the year so that the 2018 budget is responsible and reflects fresh, new ways of being church together. This actually is the perfect time to do this. We are in the church season of Epiphany. The word “Epiphany” (which, in the Greek, has a prefix for extra emphasis) refers to the manifestation or appearance of Jesus in the world. That is, the Jesus born on Christmas. To what extent does recognizing Jesus in the world, or making Jesus known in the world, determine the “why” of the church? (If you prefer, you can substitute God for Jesus in this question.)
Consider these Epiphany words from Mary Oliver which I have slightly adapted with the word “church”:
Instructions for the living church:
- Pay attention.
- Be astonished.
- Tell about it.
Blessings and love,