“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Matt 6:25
I’ve been a bit anxious lately about many things and nothing in particular. It’s just one of those moods that happens, but working in a church rarely makes it easier. Today I found some comfort (challenge?) in an unlikely source.
I am far from Martin Luthur’s biggest fan, but today (courtesy of Richard Foster) I found my self reading part of his sermon on Matthew 6:25-7:11. It went like this:
Listen … to what serving Mammon [the god of possession] means. It means being concerned about our life and our body, about what we should eat and drink and put on. It means thinking only about this life, about how to get rich here and how to accumulate and increase our money and property, as though we were going to stay here forever. The sinful worship of Mammon does not consist in eat ing and drinking and wearing clothes, nor in looking for a way to make a living and working at it; for the needs of this life and of the body make food and clothing a requirement. But the sin consists in being concerned about it and making it the reliance and confidence of your heart. Concern does not stick to clothing or to food, but directly to the heart, which cannot let a thing go and has to hang on to it. As the saying goes, “Property makes a person bold.” Thus “being concerned” means clinging to it with your heart. I am not concerned about anything that my heart does not think about, but I must have a heart for anything about which I am concerned…
It goes on from there. But what I found myself reading over and over sounded a little more like this:
Listen … to what serving Success [the god of Numbers] means. It means being concerned about our life and our size, about what is cool and how many people show up and other’s opinions. It means thinking only about this job, about how to stay employed and how to accumulate and increase our power and fame, as though we were going to stay here forever. The sinful worship of Success does not consist in being relevant and inviting and being visible in the community, nor in looking for a way to make a living and working at it; for the needs of this world and of the church body make relevance and visibility a requirement. But the sin consists in being concerned about it and making it the reliance and confidence of your heart. Concern does not stick to invitations or to hugs, but directly to the heart, which cannot let a thing go and has to hang on to it. As the saying goes, “Success makes a person bold.” Thus “being concerned” means clinging to it with your heart. I am not concerned about anything that my heart does not think about, but I must have a heart for anything about which I am concerned
You must not tighten this text too much, however, as if it prohibited any kind of concern at all. Ever ministry and occupation involves taking on certain concerns, especially being in charge of other people. As St. Paul says about spiritual offices in Christendom (Rom. 12:8): “He who rules, let him be careful.” In this sense the head of a household has to be concerned about whether his children are being brought up properly;. . . if he neglects this, he does wrong. . . .
Christ is not talking here about this sort of concern. This is an official concern, which must be sharply distinguished from greed. It is not concerned for its own sake but for the neighbor’s sake; it does not seek its own interests (1 Cor. 13:5), but even neglects them and forgets them in order to serve somebody else. Therefore it may be called a concern of love, something divine and Christian, not a concern devoted to its own advantage or to Success, militating against faith and love, and even interfering with the official concern. The one whose reputation is dear to him and who is on the lookout for his own advantage will not have much regard for his neighbor or for the ministry that involves his neighbor. . . .
Christ has forbidden this greedy concern and worship of Success as an idolatry that makes ministers enemies of God.
There is always the pressure in ministry to judge ourselves solely by the inputs (money in the plate and tails in the seats). While these can be an indication that something has gone awry, we truer, more valuable measures of success if they are our only markers.
A few months ago, the lovable engineers in my congregation conducted this massive study about why our membership was declining and what were the most effective ways to change it. It yielded a lot of useful insights, but the one that stuck with me most was this: a positive change in almost any area of the church (worship, communication, leadership development, clearer vision) was likely to result in more participation. The only sure way to NOT increase membership, was to chase new members. (there is actually a formula, spreadsheet, and graph and rendered this result).
The more you are concerned making members, the less time you have to worry about making disciples, or feeding the hungry, or caring for the sick, or visiting the lonely and imprisoned, or pursing any other mark of the Kingdom Christ laid out for us. It makes a certain amount of sense…but somehow its so hard to remember in the midst of parish life.So I suppose I owe a (only slightly grudging) thank you to Martin. Though I might have to pin this in my office and read it everyday for a long time to make it stick.