Sponsoring Downward, Outward

Rick Mattson Uncategorized 14 Comments

I have a radical idea. It’s not going to apply in every situation—I realize that.

But here it is: Church is not really for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I am HIGHLY committed to Grace Church Roseville.

What I’m saying, however, is that my job as a 50-something is not so much to receive as it is to give. Sharon and I give a lot of time and money to GCR, but we don’t expect the church to cater to our tastes, style, preferences, needs.

GCR must—absolutely must—reach out to the community. That means sermons aren’t going to “feed” me every week. Christian education is not going to be aimed precisely at me. Women’s ministries are not going to be a bullseye for Sharon. Music styles may not cater to our preferences.

Two implications of what I’m suggesting:

1)    At middle age, Sharon and I should be capable of nourishing ourselves spiritually from the word of God. Yes, I listen closely to the fine sermons at GCR and I try to obey what I hear. But I don’t expect Pastor Jason to have me primarily in mind when he preaches.

2)    I’m no longer a guest at GCR. On the contrary, I’m a host, a sponsor. My job is to help our church connect with young generations and new people. When stuff is aimed at me, I figure we’re missing the mark.

Folks, I’m not trying to be a martyr here. I’m just saying the church must constantly renew itself or risk losing its Great Commission.

Your thoughts?

Comments 14

  1. I strongly agree with where you are going with this, Rick. I simply disagree that, at GCR, this effort was pursued in such a way that hundreds felt like they had to leave.

    I'm cheerfully involved at GCR, but I think it was possible keep many others who could have joined us in the mentoring role we now assume.


  2. Preach it brother! Others have said as much (McManus: “The Church is not here for you. Rather, you are the Church, and you are here for the world.” and someone else: “the Church is the only human institution that exists primarily for its non-members.”), but you, Rick, made it personal and practical for others at your home church.

    I will quibble only with two small points: I think it healthy that the church occasionally aim itself at me; and the church should primarily aim itself at pre-believers and new believers, regardless what sociological “generation” they are from. Though I agree that at Grace, this mostly means the younger generation.


  3. Okay — I'll be the cantakerous source of opposition. You seem to think the only purpose for a church service is evangelism. What about being taught? (“I can feed myself” might be an un-teachable attitude) What about accountablity? What about worship? What about corporate prayer? what about communion?

    “I can do it all by myself” is not an attitude of maturity, but sounds more like adolesence.

    Did Paul ever “out-grow” church? Or Peter? — seems like there are some NT passages where they mention learning hard things from each other's writings.

    “Greg the over-educated sawyer who still goes to church.”

  4. I agree with the spirit of your blog… that we don't get caught up in our own needs and recognize that we are not the center of the universe… but I see a problem with a couple of broad sweeping conclusions…

    First, I think too often we (the church in general) minimize the great commission to the evangelical sale… otherwise knows as “how many conversions? this year!” I believe that the great commission is much more expansive… it IS about conversion, but is also about teaching, healing, growth… and if we are all to keep transforming… then a balanced church would atleast aim at having some of each.

    Secondly… although I find you very intelligent and capable of many things…You and Sharon cannot in isolation “nourish yourself spiritually from the word of God.” (what does that mean?) God's plan is community that forces us to grow… to change… to mature…not only intellectually, but emotionally and spiritually. I don't think one can do that in isolation. Yes… you can read your bible… you can pray…. but if your church has no place for middle agers to experience true community… well you will start to see a definity scewed result over time.

    just my random thoughts… love you… love your blogs! gretta

  5. You might be right, or maybe (and I say this as a card-carrying evangelical) evangelicalism is just not really “for” any strong Christian. I worry that once we get past the sweet milk of the gospel, evangelical churches are not so good with the meat (and potatoes). Or at least knowing how to get deep without losing what we do best. Kate

  6. Well stated Rick! However, I do also agree with Bob O. and regret that the change process lacked finesse by forcing choice and demonizing those who still held strongly to their preferences. Had your missional message been more of the focus we may have retained a few more commrads – although most still probably would have exited due to their ecclesiological leaning. In the greater scope of things the purging has allowed the church to move forward with clarity of purpose. I'm deeply grateful to see GCR becoming a more outward focused balanced and vital body! Thanks for your faithful involvement Rick!!

    Phil T.

  7. I guess you know where I'll come down on this, so let me start with a couple positives:

    1. The time and money you give. Yes, yes, yes. Good stuff. We should all be doing the same.

    2. Not expecting the “church” to cater to “our tastes, style, preferences.” Not exclusively, anyway. Eschew supermarket church-shopping! Yes!

    3.(bonus positive!) “no longer a guest”…Amen! You are a brother, a friend, an heir. Your outlook ought be outward.

    Points of contention:
    1. Not expecting the “church” to cater to our “needs.” Really? Not the needs, either? Why church, then?

    2. “Capable of nourishing ourselves spiritually from the word of God.” I'm with Greg & Gretta above. If the corporate nature of Church plays no central role, we are left with the Gnosticism of each individual's take on the sermon and the super-spiritualization (akin to Corinth) of each individual's “worship experience.”

    3. Overall, I think this post reveals the standard, weak ecclesiology of evangelicalism, adrift in the boat of its own pragmatism on the sea of modernist individualism. As long as evangelicals see “church” as merely the best way to preach “the gospel” in a “culturally relevant” way, then this boat will remain without oars and without anchor. “Church” will continue to mean primarily going to “church” rather than being the Church. Kate's comment above–with which I readily agree–is not merely insightful, but prophetic (not to mention descriptive of my own journey).

    “Reaching out to the community” cannot be done without proper “spiritual nourishment.” Full spiritual nourishment is an (individual and corporate) encounter with the Risen Lord through his Holy Spirit in the midst of his people. (This is the basis of sacramental theology, which Luther and Calvin readily understood.) This happens only as Church in church. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “'Believing' is an ecclesial act. The Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. The Church is the mother of all believers. 'No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother' (St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519).”

  8. I think saying that the church is not for you is like a father saying that his family is not for him. Misleading. While being a parent has taught me a little of 'taking up my cross' and 'the Son of Man did not come to serve but to be served' it has also be a source of joy, not to mention growth. I do not expect my children to make me breakfast, but I do love it when they do that for Father's day. Even if the coffee is weak and the eggs are burned. I would say that my family, and my church, are precisely for me, in that they enable me to become Christlike. Churches need to 'equip the saints for the ministry' otherwise they will die. The ultimate goal of the church is the salvation of the world, but the ultimate means of the church are its active body.

  9. I keep coming back to Ephesians 4 – that the purpose of ministry leaders (apostles, evangelists, teachers, etc.) are to build up the people for works of service. Thus, the church is both inward-focused (building up the people) and outward focused (works of service). Combine that with my conviction that ordination is given to specific people for specific times and places (as opposed to “once ordained, always ordained”), and I think the result is that individuals in community will always be giving and receiving, with sometimes one movement overbalancing the other.

  10. Wow, great affirmations and correctives to my post!

    Thank you all so much.

    I will now break my rule of brevity in order to fill in some context (feel free to skim).

    Regarding individualism, spiritual self-sufficiency, not “needing” the church: I receive this as a corrective to my post. I never meant to imply any of that but I can see how I might be interpreted that way.

    Regarding the church as a means to an end—that is, a vehicle for outreach: In my view one of the church’s main jobs—and most neglected—is outreach. So I’m going to have a hard time budging on this point.

    When church members are actively sharing their faith as a lifestyle, and when their church is a hospitable place for newcomers, a lot of other things fall into place. Intercession, Bible study, community service and worship are all invigorated. But when you take evangelism out of the equation, spiritual vitality is greatly harmed.

    I realize the classic formula for outreach is to “feed the flock first” and it will spill over into witness. I’ve never had much faith in that way of doing things. It seems to me we need to do both at the same time: Go deep and go wide. . . now. Don’t wait.

    Lastly, I’ll mention that I can either write longer posts (naw!), or stick to making just one naked point each week with few qualifiers and little context (reality!).

    Qualifiers on this post might have included how good the teaching and curriculum are at our church, how much Sharon and I receive from the fellowship and various ministries there, how we depend on our church for our spiritual vitality (though not exclusively), and how deep is my commitment to a multi-generational ecclesiology.

    But in just a few lines on this post I have hoped to communicate a single main idea: That my generation, now that we’re in power, must shape the church for the benefit of other people. We must not think of our own needs and preferences first. That doesn’t mean we never think of ourselves. But in the main, I believe our first impulse, our first filter of evaluation, our first leadership move should account for young people and the secular community around us. That’s what it means to sponsor downward and outward.

    A final qualifier (see, this would have made a very long post) is to ask how we can honor and meet the needs of retired people and the elderly in our churches. So add this as well: Boomers, sponsor down, out. . . and up. 🙂

  11. Good thoughts all. You all are theologians, I am more a historian/sociologist (amateur), so I'll share where this post led me – Europe. Visit the great (empty) Cathedrals of Europe, and see the vast rows of empty pews leading up to the 3 rows at the front that contain what's left of the congregations. Average age? About 65. The service is being led by a Priest, Pastor, or Reverend in his 80s. Lots of young people come in – as tourists taking pictures of the ornate, dusty woodwork and the beautiful stained glass. These are churches that did not consider how to bring the Good News to the 20-something Eurotrash kids who grew up bathed in secular socialism (sound anything like the kids you guys deal with on a regular basis?). As a collective they turned their noses up at the world and said that when those kids were ready, the Gospel would be in the dark, empty Cathedrals waiting for them. And there It sits, still waiting. So, tying my thoughts back to Rick's post, yes, the church must reach out to the next generation. The world has made more leaps forward in knowledge and speed/style of communication in the last 20 years (the lifetime of this generation) than the preceeding 100. If the church can't communicate with someone who is used to knowing EXACTLY what their friends, family, classmates, and Justin Bieber are doing at any given moment and rarely pays attention for longer than 140 characters, then they WILL lose this generation, as the Old World church has already done. Whether that can be accomplished while still feeding the middle age crowd is left to more experienced minds than my own – my guess would be that it must be a separate but equal part of the church or something must be sacrificed as Rick suggests.

  12. As the pastor of said church (Grace Roseville) I concur with the heart of your post, Rick. I agree with Bob & Phil that I wish we were able to better communicate and open dialogue with some of the people that left. I tried talking with many many of them but sadly many had made up their minds before hearing the why – which only taught me to try to get ahead of the what with the why first — but we're all people in process and learning as we go. But of course I'm grieved.

    However, I'm also grieved at an evangelicalism that seems to set up each generation for its needs instead of its opportunities. We segregate churches into age groups instead of intentionally creating environments where people can interact and in so doing provide opportunities for organic connections, discipleship and community. Our new “Catalysts” provide such an environment and we're continuing to explore ways to be more intentional.
    But the right environment with the wrong heart isn't that helpful. And that is the reason I appreciate your post, Rick…it's a call to a mindset or heart-shift. Which I would argue (as a late 30 something now) is for all generations to adopt. We all need to view church as a place for me to serve, to invest, to share what I know. There are far more people outside of the church than inside and we all need to turn our eyes outward and see that it's not just about us and if we don't do some major pushing on the proverbial pendulum we will settle into ourselves which is what's comfortable. This post is a call for a focus and understanding on others, knowing that we grow the most when we're engaged in community and service (I grow so much more as I teach than I do when I merely listen for example). I want to see all generations and ethnicities come to Grace Church and I want to see us as the church viewing ourselves as existing for the world (not just ourselves) and our spiritual growth and depth as a tool to better aligning ourselves with the purposes of Jesus. I just posted a blog about the power of mindset and approach… http://www.gracechurchroseville.org/pastorjason/?p=899

  13. My church encourages everybody not to wait for Sunday to be refreshed but to come full of the word, to come full of the Spirit and be able to overflow and bless others when we all get together! It's great! 🙂

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