Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran, the writers of 'Rebuilt' and 'Tools for Rebuilding' gave the keynote speech on Saturday of the Conference with the title 'Moving Members from Consumers to Contributors'.
Not everything that has worked in our parish will work or be transferable to your own situation and setting. There are still many questions for which we do not have the answers yet. Our parish in North Baltimore is a work in progress.
Many of you have read our book, 'Rebuilt'. Publishing a successful book has been a very interesting experience. That book has opened up the doors to many speaking engagements, even in Las Vegas. Let us tell you that travel gets old very quickly.
Recently we were in Chicago and very much looking forward to going home. While we were waiting in the airport lounge we noticed a big buzz and lots of agitation going on. Our flight had been delayed. First by 2 hours, then by 4 hours and then indefinitely delayed. So many flights had been delayed and cancelled that quite a lot of panic developed in the airport. Our options were limited, we could stay and wait until the next flight to Baltimore became possible, or we could try to get to Baltimore via Cleveland. The lady in front of us at the airline counter was quite frantic about getting the Cleveland option. Eventually we did get home by the direct route. But the lesson we learned was this – it is very, very easy to lose direction and purpose over temporary setbacks.
So let's have a brief refresher on the basics. Acts 2:42 'These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.' This is what the first Christian community did, and they were extraordinarily fruitful in introducing people to Christ and in helping develop them in discipleship. The mission hasn't changed. This too is our task, our work, fuelled by the new evangelisation (we don't know what that term means, but we are learning).
The difficulty comes with the details. In any project, the devil is in the details. So here we can get mixed up. To build you need to start somewhere, and the building site is your parish; your neighbourhood. Parish is where you join the kingdom building effort. And as you know, any building site looks messy and awkward.
Your parish consists of those not just in your congregation, not just those in the pews. It consists of it of everyone who lives within your parish boundaries. So we need to learn about them, the people in the parish who are not in relationship with the parish. What is their culture? What they think about God, faith, religion? - If they think about any of these things at all.
We decided to learn about them. What we learnt surprised us. The majority of those in our parish do not go to church, were baptised Catholic and are not interested in the things of God at all. Learning why they left, and about what might them back, is critical to building the kingdom.
We read in the Gospels that Jesus took His 12 disciples on a road trip. They went to Caesarea Philippi, an ancient town that was like Las Vegas on steroids. It had a temple with a deep grotto that was dedicated to the Greek god 'Pan'. It was a wildly hedonistic place. The locals called this temple with its grotto the Gates of Hades. It is actually the source of the River Jordan. The interesting thing is that Jesus brought His disciples here not to preach or to teach but to ask them two questions:
'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' The disciples had many answers for this question because there was plenty of confusion about who Jesus is.
'But who do you say I am?' Peter gets this question right, and that's the first time that happens. He says 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'
What happens then is that Jesus makes a very big announcement. As big as the giving of the Law to Moses, as big as the promise that a descendant of David would be the Messiah, as big as the angel's news to Mary that she would become the Mother of God. That big. 'You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church.'
Jesus could have used 'temple' or 'synagogue', but He didn't. He used a word previously not found in the New Testament – 'church'. This is the biggest news ever. This is God's plan for the rest of human history. 'And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven'. Matt 16:18-20.
The Greek word for church is ecclesia. It was a word used to describe assemblies, gatherings of people in a neighbourhood coming together for a purpose. A bit like a town hall meeting with a deliberate purpose which impacts upon everyone in the neighbourhood. Jesus Christ promised to build an ecclesia, not a kirk, not a building. He wasn't interested in buildings. An ecclesia is a movement. And a movement has gotta move – it has to grow, too. The ecclesia of Jesus is a dynamic gathering, a powerful movement, with world changing consequences.
The problem is that church people get in the way. We like to control and contain this movement. We like things neat and orderly. Ecclesia is messy. Building projects are messy. Building projects are unpredictable. They are works in progress. Church people want things neat, predictable and finished. Tension between the movement of the kingdom and the inertia of church people is not ancient history – it happens everywhere.
Building the kingdom is not easy and no one will thank you for it initially – do it anyway.
Throw away your usual agenda, and ask…..
- Are we making a reasonable difference in our community or are we simply serving our members?
- Are we mobilised for mission or insisting on business as usual?
- Are we here to preserve a broken system or building where God is blessing?
- Are we simply meeting or are we moving and doing something with meaning?
- People committed to not coming
- Consumers in your parish who come out of guilt, to get something, who come out of obligation, who come to feed their needs, who come for something for a family member. It is all about them. It is OK for them to come in that way.
- Contributors. Those who are helping your parish to move and who are supporters.
- Committed. Those sold out to build the kingdom of God.
The next issue will give the second part of the keynote speech and some of the Q and A discussion which followed it.
Some of the workshops have been made available as podcasts via www.xt3.com
To access them visit http://www.xt3.com/library/view.php?id=17454
Some of the talks and workshops are now available from http://www.proclaimconference.com.au/resources.
Several video clips, transcripts, handouts and slide presentations are downloadable.
These Notes are only one person's version of what they heard, and they are not a literal transcript.