November 21, 2011

Were You Transformed?

The end of a year always puts me in a reflective mood. Like a DJ at some local radio station, I take full advantage of these days to look back and compile lists of the past year’s greatest hits and less successful ventures. It’s also when I ask myself frank questions about what I’m doing with my life and where I'm going. 

The end of the church year is no different. With this past Sunday behind us, we are heading full steam ahead toward Advent and the beginning of a new church year. But before we get there, I think this is a good time to reflect on our level of involvement in our local congregation. Was all that effort worth it? Or, to put it more finely, were you transformed this year?

I hesitate to even ask this question. Recently I was chastised (albeit gently) for having an excessively consumerist attitude about church. This came at the end of a long conversation in which I voiced my need for an inspiring, well-delivered sermon on Sunday mornings. This need has led me to do a bit of “church shopping” over the past few years, but it has also resulted in finding a place where I’m regularly challenged from the pulpit to live out the gospel. 

So how about you? Will you join me in asking this question about your church? While I realize that not everyone is as affected by sermons as I am, and that others find their points of entry in music, fellowship, or a particular ministry, I think questions about transformation are important to ask. Were you transformed by the Gospel this year? Did your congregation change as a result of the Good News? Is your church a source of hope and transformation for your local community and in the wider world? 

If so, thank God. But if not, what then? It may be time to have a heart-to-heart with the ministry leaders of your church. In that conversation, you all may hear a call that ultimately transforms the congregation. Or (gulp) perhaps it's time to go elsewhere. Like people, churches can lose a sense of their call. It takes remarkably strong souls to continue to serve in these communities. For the rest of us, it may be that God is calling us to a wilderness period, a time of wandering which may or may not lead us to another Episcopal church. 

While these are hard questions to answer, I believe the act of asking them can lead to a deeper kind of churchwide vitality. Too many of us attend church simply because we can’t imagine going anywhere else on Sunday morning, or because we value hearing our own opinions affirmed from the pulpit week after week. Yet if you can’t name the last time you had a startling, transformative encounter with God at church, one that has changed the way you move through life, then I’m just not sure what the point is.  

As for that yearly list of “greatest hits”, I can easily think of three sermons from this past year that really hit home. To dust off an older phrase, I remember walking home those Sundays feeling "convicted by the Gospel" and starting to live differently. These moments have encouraged me to become more involved in church rather than less, and have served as strong reminders of why I get up on Sunday mornings and go to church at all - namely, because my life would be far poorer for not having heard God's word that morning.