God wants you and your church, but God doesn’t need you. God’s work will go on without us.
A prophet might tell us: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We are Yoders. We are Lehmans. We are Shenks. We are the Mennonites.’ I tell you that out of stones God can raise up Anabaptists.”
People say we need to get our children to come to church more. Or that we have got to get more people to come to Sunday school. Or we have to make people take church more seriously. Or we need to sing more hymns — or more praise songs.
But we don’t have to do anything. We don’t need to do anything. And we definitely can’t make anyone do anything.
Conversations like these remove God from the equation. They assume God’s opinion. They support false expectations and prop up traditions.
In our “need” or “must” or “make” statements, we make assumptions about God, about our congregation or about others.
Whenever I catch myself making a “need” statement, I try to figure out its underlying assumption.
I might say, “We need to have more visitors on Sunday morning.” But do we really need more visitors? No, that need is linked to another desire or commitment. Until we put the underlying concern in the light of day, the word “need” locks us in without a clear understanding.
I usually try to come up with an “if” statement to understand a “need” statement: If we want this congregation to continue to have a full-time pastor, then we need to have more visitors on Sunday morning.
Sometimes our “needs” mask a false altruism or a false concern. Needs (real or perceived) often come from fear, not from hope and love. When we name the reason behind the need, then we can deal with the concern instead of a fearful obligation.
Our ideas of what the church needs often arise from a sense of obligation or a feeling that the church is necessary.
But we must remember: God will go on without us.
If we want God to be glorified, then we need to live lives that proclaim God’s goodness with all our being. When we say it this way, our actions come out of love and not fear.
If we don’t name the reason for the perceived need, we end up having (or losing) power over people or over the situation because of the fear created by the “need to” or “have to” statement.
If we just say we need more money, we assume our plans for the money are good. But why do we need the money? Because we don’t like the color of the carpet? Because we need new hymnals? Because we want to prevent the death of children who lack food or water?
Here is a common need statement: “We need more young people at church.” But we should address some assumptions.
Here is how I would approach it: If we want our church to be here in 20 years, then we need more young people.
Now we can deal with the real question: Why do we want our church to be here 20 years from now? Do we have a self-serving purpose? Is it pride in our cultural heritage? Or do we serve the community in ways other churches don’t?
It is a valid desire to preserve our cultural heritage. But the church isn’t here to preserve our culture. It is here to proclaim and make present God’s kingdom.
Do we want our church to be here to serve the community and glorify God? Are we willing to give it all up to God? Are we willing to change our music, our buildings, our landscape, our reputation because of our commitment to serving God?
Or do we just want our church to be here in 20 years because the idea of sitting in a different pew makes us uncomfortable?
Bob Brown is pastor of Stahl Mennonite Church in Johnstown, Pa.