And Jesus called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person.”
YES, the news reminds us that we are a divided nation, Facebook reminds us of the deep-seated anger in our world, and our conversations with church members and community reminds us that people are frustrated.
YES, small membership churches are angry because it seems nobody cares that the small town they serve is shrinking, frustrated because children move away after high school graduation, and the businesses and storefronts that once thrived, twenty to thirty years ago, are now crumbling with their doors boarded shut.
YES, we are very angry and frustrated by what is happening around us.
However, maybe we should remind ourselves of Jesus words that it's “...not what goes in that defiles a person (or church) but what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person (or church).”
When we, who live in small rural communities and attend small membership churches, allow anger and frustration to control our lives, we fail to live out our call to be disciples and make disciples.
When we get to the point where our anger and frustration becomes our focus and forget to listen to the Holy Spirit, we fail to follow the way of Jesus and to be an example of God's grace.
And, when we get to the point where our anger and frustration leads us to resignation and we give up on God's power and majesty, we fail to be God's voice to a hurting world.
So, what will come out of our small membership churches? Will we be the churches who continue to be faithful to Jesus' call and the belief that in the midst of pain we can bring hope?
Will we remember that even though our children grow up and leave, God calls us to share redemption, forgiveness and love with those children still living in our community?
And, will we remember that through the Holy Spirit we are empowered to be the light of Christ to the hurting world?
I can understand how those who live and work in rural communities and churches can feel angry and frustrated. However, our world does not need more anger and frustration. Our world needs to hear the Love, Grace, and Hope of Jesus Christ from small membership churches.
There are quality programs, studies, and books, which will help your small membership church reclaim the mission of making disciples. I would encourage you to visit with your district superintendent and conference staff about programs that are available for your local church.
The Lay Academy for Small Membership Churches is available to bring “HOPE for Small Membership Church Workshop” to your church or district. This workshop helps churches rediscover God's promise as they move beyond anger and frustration, and reclaim the mission of making disciples. For more information go Lay Academy for Rural Church Ministries or contact Rev. Dr. Carl K. Ellis.
May God's hope give you strength that you and your church might bring hope and strength to your community and world.