Since I’ve been in ministry over five years, I think I can make some valid assessments. Especially being in a downtown/inner city church. While it is inner city and there are violent incidents, I can honestly say that there has been very little impact while I have been there. We’ve had a couple of incidents of material vandalism, but these were isolated, no one really even around. A couple of incidents of people who needed to be confronted, one physically removed. But I frankly don’t believe it’s anymore than any other church. We all have our unfortunate incidents, a downtown church is not immune from that. I grew up and lived in a larger city for over thirty years. There’s nothing in York that is really impressively violent. It’s certainly not parts of Boston, Detroit, Baltimore etc. While I can’t give you hard measurements, it seems that if anything, at least for the area surrounding First Saint Johns, things have improved, since I’ve been here.
Another observation I’ve made is the number of “realists” who think that their uninformed opinion and their life in general is just A-J squared away and that they have some compulsion to share it. Part of that is this disregard for the importance of the serious Christian church, especially in the urban area.
At First Saint Johns, there is a faithful group of people, who genuinely want to be part of the community. Now, that has been somewhat stunted because of some negative influences among the membership. More and more that is being pushed aside and the church is more and more being a part of the community.
But we still have many outside of the church who seem to think that it is all about them (and yes, there certainly is that element in the church), that the church is there solely to meet their needs. It’s as if it’s some kind of social service agency that is just there to meet their needs and then leave them alone.
For those outside of the church, I’ve had many over and over who show up and expect people to just hand over things. People showing up around worship is a regular routine. Apparently the scenario is that I’m too busy to really deal with them, so I’ll just hand over what they want, they seem to think that I don’t want them there to begin with. Seems that they may be a disruption and I don’t want to deal with that. Yea, I’m just not going to rise to that bait. My standard procedure is to tell them to go to worship and then I’ll have time to talk to them afterwards. We have fellowship time after worship and they’re certainly welcome to share. I know that doesn’t go over big with some people in the church, but again I’m not there to play to those who have been there decades and expect that I’m supposed to be on their script. In five years there’s been a couple of people who’ve stayed and it gives me a chance to see a little of what they’re about and, maybe, help them. For the most part, when they see that the their plan isn’t going to play out the way they want, they unceremoniously leave.
When someone like that actually does want to talk, one thing I emphasize is what they’re going to do in order to pull things together. That being a part of a church community is probably one of the few places in our world today that you can build a genuine human face-to-face relationship. I try to impress upon them that people are much more willing to help and help in a meaningful way, if they will make the first step to become part of that community. I have seen it work. Too often, the subject person just won’t give it a legitimate try and walks away in scorn. But for some who have really done it the right way, I have seen them grow and begin to pull a real life together. Not saying it’s perfect, but I think and I’ve been told, that it has made a real change.
This is the more obvious example, but everyone out there needs to build genuine relationships and of course the most vitally important relationship is with Jesus. There is simply no way to build that relationship unless you are in a church body, the Body of Christ, with genuine, faithful, orthodox Christian believers. Sure other non-Christian churches do build personal relationships, but they are not building people to relationships in Christ.
My question is: Does God bless someone when they are MIA (Missing In Action) from his genuine, evangelical, Law and Gospel preaching church? Have to tell you, the answer is a genuine no. I’ve had it happen a few times, most recently when we were doing an outreach, right out in front of the church for a large road race that goes right by the church. A man stops who’s asking me what’s the difference between our church and the local big box church, which of course he thinks is all that and a bag of chips.
I told him, First Saint Johns is genuine worship. We’re not there for entertainment and amusement and feel good Christianity. We are here to be genuine disciples. Jesus tells us in Matthew: [ESV Matthew 7:22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'” And Jesus replies to them: “[ESV Matthew 7:23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” Sorry, but there are too many “pastors” out there who are playing to the crowd and too many crowds expecting to be entertained and patted on the head, who both think that what they’re doing is genuine worship. Not only that, but I’ve had this a few times, people who have had nothing to do with a genuine church, but when real life happens (as compared to big-box churches who generally will tell you that everything is just hunky-dory so long as you have faith), they expect a genuine church to swoop in and give them the comfort of Christ in their tragedy. Sorry, but the big-box churches won’t do that, to them, any kind of trial is on the person being subjected to trial, they obviously didn’t have enough faith. But please, showup and tell me about your nice earth toned building that entertain you once a week, or whenever you show up, but does little in terms of growing disciples and genuine outreach to serve those in genuine need.
Let’s look at the Acts church, a genuine church. Now let’s put aside all the charismatic stuff. Because I’m sorry Pentecostal churches, the Acts Church was not dancing around making the Christian life all fun and games and miracles. Yes, there were miracles, but this was the church in its infancy, the Gospels hadn’t been written yet. The moving of the Holy Spirit discipled them, and that’s fine. But for subsequent churches, they were discipled by men who had been genuinely taught and trained and could teach from the writings of the Gospel writers. Faith was based and is based today on what we are taught and led by the Holy Spirit. Not some fatuous, pretentious claim of speaking in tongues, healing, prosperity, but genuine Christian discipleship. There are genuine Christians out there who don’t speak in tongues, who are unhealthy and who are not financially well off. There are too many phoney Christians out there who are pretty sure they know more than everyone, they can buy or work their way to salvation (I refer you to Donald Trump’s recent comments) and that it is according to their script. This ladies and gentlemen, is the Pharisaical philosophy of the big-box church. This was the Corinthian Church as compared to the Acts Church.
The Corinthian church had a bunch of pretty well to do members who were pretty sure it was all about them. They would tolerate gross sexual immorality, they would bring in their big feasts, send the poorer members out to the kitchen to forage what they could, while they enjoyed their big feasts with their fellow Pharisees in the stately dining room, of course befitting their position, opposed to those poor Christians in the kitchen.
The Acts Church was nothing like that. In fact Paul was out raising money to support the church in Jerusalem. The church had nothing to speak of, its members had nothing to speak of and basically every one lived hand to mouth. Living not for themselves, but for each other feeding each other, caring for each other, helping each other through the trials. The Corinthians would have pooh-poohed such a pathetic situation. Sound familiar? Now objectively looking at both, which church would you really say demonstrated genuine faith?
Referring back to those Pharisees who come and tell me how everything should be, “I’m going to share with you everything you need to know to do things right” types. (Really I swear these people think I just fell off the tuna trolley.) This type of person is an interesting study, they will tell you how smart they are, yet, not smart enough to know what they’re talking about, or who they’re talking to. They simply don’t let the facts get in their way. I would compare education, life experience, work ethic with any of them, but they simply are not interested in getting the full story, they just want to make sure they know that I know they know it all, and that I’m incredibly naive to think that anyone needs a genuine Law/Gospel, discipling Christian church. Hey, here’s a thought Mister know it all, I might actually know things that will help you, I can give you real ministry, trained, experienced, genuine, doctrine that’s been around for 500 years and has guided millions of people to Christ. You might actually get something out of a genuine Christian church and know what it truly means to be a Christian.
Now this applies to both those who are coming in demanding that I hand over what they want, so they can leave and buy their booze, drugs, sex etc. And to those who are quite sure that because of their blessings that they are all that and a bag of chips and if I were smart like them (heaven forbid) I should listen to them and they’ll get me all straightened out. I submit, that if you would give me the opportunity, you might finally realize that the poorly trained pastor (most barely have a “Bible School” training. The Lutheran Church generally requires a Masters Degree) at your pretty happy-clappy-earth toned theatre, (ya, hardly ever a real church, usually built like a theatre for entertainment versus a genuine sanctuary. And you’re never going to see a crucifix, and probably not any type of cross or other meaningful Christian symbol. Because hey that would just harsh everyone’s buzz). Contrast with the “pastor” who really has no life experience, no real education, thinks that being a Christian (like to much of the world is entertainment and a handful of nice cliches, which are not usually even biblically based), mostly because he/she is immature and has never lived any life yet, but hey at least they make you feel good.
But when you want true Christian ministry, because you are now confronted with genuine crisis, genuine trials and you realize the “churches”, Christian mantras and “feel good”/prosperity prattle really doesn’t help you to cope in life, you may not have a church to come back to. You may find that genuine Christian ministry doesn’t have time for you. Does God really bless and support you when you’ve rejected His real church for decades? That you’ve failed to raise your children in a real church? That you’ve made it all about you and nothing about Jesus who died as a payment for your sins? That you expect an already overworked, extended pastor, who has been doing genuine ministry, for people who have been leading a genuine Christian life, that pastor is going to drop everything and jump through hoops for you? You, a person who expects people to jump through hoops and yet you make little if any sacrifice from your own life? That’s the sin of “simony”, when Peter told the sorcerer Simon that he should perish with his money. Do me and a lot of genuine pastors out there, a favor, keep your money. My integrity is only in Christ and what He did for me. Show some real integrity on your part and start supporting a genuine church of Christ. Are you genuine or do you just talk a good game? I know for most of those people who want to tell me what it’s really all about, they talk a good game, but they wouldn’t know genuine Christian ministry and discipleship if it bit them in the nose. I’ve seen a lot of types, in different areas of my life, who have managed to do well in life, by doing very little except talk a good game, but not really know what it is to be a new creation in Christ.
Too many out there need to pick the real team, get back in the real game. Great things are happening here at First Saint Johns Church. To be sure God is going to work His blessing, with or without you. For once in your life, listen instead of presuming to know what is really going on. For those who have been truly serving for so long in God’s church, they need others to step up as genuine Christians to begin to do genuine Christian service and ministry, in a place where it really matters. If you’re really all that smart, show us how real Christian ministry can lead others to eternal life in Christ and genuine service in the world, true disciples.
Call me intemperate, over the top, but it’s way past time for many to step up and take real responsibility for their role in Christ’s church and to support genuine ministry and not ministry that is solely about entertainment and tickling your ears. I will be working my butt of supporting genuine ministry to genuine Christians, those who have been there for Jesus’ church through all the trials, tribulation and celebrations. I owe them my time and I will give as much time, talent and treasure as God leads me to do, day or night, 24/7. How do I know that? Because that’s what I’ve been doing. But for those who expect to drop in then drop out, you may not have a place to go. My time, talent resources are genuine, they’ve been given to me by God to use in His service and the priority for those resources are going to be for the benefit of those who have served and been disciples in Christ’s church. For those who think that the church is their for their convenience and just don’t seem to get true ministry, they may well have to wait. Let’s see real Christian men jump into the true fight and not sitting patting each other in your pretty little earth-tone churches.
The difference between the big box church and us Lutherans is WE HAVE THE GOSPEL.
In a big box church, the Gospel is nothing more than an appeal – do this (make a decision, surrender your life, walk the aisle or whatever) and you will be saved. The Gospel isn’t meant to be heard as an appeal, it is meant to be heard as Truth. It has already been accomplished.
In a big box church, the Gospel message is merely the “hook” to get you in. After that it’s all about “livin’ for Jesus”. Its always about what YOU should do, how YOU should live.
In a Lutheran church, the Gospel is our LIFEBLOOD. It comes to us over and over again through Word and Sacrament because we are sinners and we need it! The Gospel is for sinners!
I’m still a sinner in need of the Gospel. Why would I go looking for it where I know it will not be found?
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Amen and wow! Wish I had a dozen of you in the congregation, York, Pa would be knocked over. I like your characterization, it really is a “sales pitch” and then it creates a goofy relationship “I chose You, so you have to … for me”. It’s really great to hear from you, thank you very much for your kind words, they really mean a lot from someone who obviously knows what it’s about. God bless and I very much appreciate your feedback. I don’t know if you’re on FaceBook, but I’d welcome you to check out the church page. First Saint John’s, York, Pa. Pastor Jim Driskell