What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-4-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-4-19

One of the hottest topics at FCC Granby has to do with the question, “How do we reach new people?” My first response “I don’t know.” Those of you know me will know that that’s a bit of a joke. The fact is that I was put on this earth to help people connect to God. It’s the one thing I seem to be able to do. But, a key to reaching new people is starting in exactly this place of “not knowing.”

Each person is unique and is in a different place on their spiritual journeys. In order to reach that person who is right in front of us, we start from a place of complete openness and not knowing. “Who are you?” “What makes you tick?” “What are your loves?” “What are your fears?” “What do you long for?” Now, you wouldn’t necessarily ask these questions to a complete stranger. They would think you’re weird or inappropriate. But in our minds and attitudes that’s where we begin. Great spiritual teacher Shunryu Suzuki calls this “beginner’s mind.” It is a mind of love, of radical compassion, and limitless possibility. An expert already knows the answer. A beginner is a friend who shares your questions and is excited to search with you for the answers.

This is very different from charity. I have found that in UCC churches, we confuse “reaching new people” with charity. We call it “outreach.” “We do tons of outreach,” people tell me. We feed homeless people at the shelter and collect food for the foodbank and donate diapers to the womens’ shelter. All of these are worthy causes. A helpful way to think of them is as “mission to.” We have a “mission to” the homeless community or a “mission to” victims of abuse or a “mission to” refugees. We offer them a service, but we don’t usually put the future of our church in their hands. 

Charity–at least as congregations practice it–tends to have a “mission to” approach. By contrast, reaching new people requires a “mission with” approach. A “mission with” approach seeks to make spiritual connections with people for the purpose of helping all of us connect to God. It is sharing your faith with your neighbors. It is inviting your friends to a church barbeque. It is starting a lunch time Bible study in your office or in your home. It is praying with a family member. It is attending community events and supporting community initiatives. It is asking town leaders, “If you were to create a church from scratch, what would it look like?” And then designing worship, program, building, staffing, everything around not what we would prefer but around what the community truly needs.

Beginner’s mind is a humble mind that admits that perhaps we are declining as a congregation because we don’t know how to do church as well as we think we do. A beginner’s mind is willing to consider that perhaps instead of trying to convince people that they should come to us, we should go to them.

Today I had a touching conversation with Robin, whose son owns the Village Cork and Keg. She’s stressed out working multiple jobs and helping out her son at his business. I offered to pray for her. We had a profound moment of spiritual connection right there in the package store. That’s where we were. That’s where we met. Reaching new people means reaching people where they are. When we reach out to others with a beginners mind and the intention of being in “mission with” them rather than doing a “mission to” them, we might find, to our surprise, a divine presence reaching back.

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