I think I had the impression that many really big churches got to be that way because their leaders set out to build big churches, perhaps out of ego or ambition, and they had the skills to make that happen. As a result of the Summit, I came to understand that many of the largest churches in the country started out not with a desire to be big, but with a deep commitment to be faithful to God’s will. These churches grew and grew, and continue to grow, because God has blessed their efforts to be faithful to his vision for their community. When a church is faithful to God’s vision, God blesses that church with abundant growth. God wants his Church to grow, because God wants his love to reach to the ends of the earth.
In the first reading for this Sunday, Joshua tells the Israelites that they have to choose which gods they were going to serve: “Decide today: whom will you serve?” It’s easy for us to dismiss this question as irrelevant to us, to think that strange gods are a thing of the distant past. But it’s a question we have to take seriously as a community. We have to ask ourselves if we as a community are faithfully serving the real, living, true God, the God who expects us to be fruitful, and who promises that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we will move mountains in the service of his Church (Mt. 17:20).
In their book describing their experience of trying to apply some of the wisdom of intentionally growing churches to a Catholic parish in Maryland (Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter), Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran put it this way: “God’s will is growth; God expects us to be fruitful. So, if we’re not fruitful, don’t we have to stop and consider if we’re really being faithful? If we’re not being fruitful, don’t we need to evaluate what we’re doing wrong, learn more about where God wants us to go, and if necessary, do things differently?”
The local church is nothing less than the local incarnation of God’s plan for the salvation of all the world. As a community, we have to get clear about all the ways in which we are not yet all that God dreams for us to be. We have to be willing to see and address the differences between the community we are now and the community God wants us to be. This process will require a great deal of humility, openness, and courage from all of us. It’s not easy for us to acknowledge our shortcomings, or to face up to the ways that we need to change. But it is such an important part of being a real community of faith, of faithfully serving the one true God.
We need everyone in our community to be part of this process, and there are so many ways to join the conversation. Two great opportunities are coming up soon: on Monday, September 14th, at 7 pm, the New Roads Books Group will gather at St. Joseph to discuss Rebuilt. Get yourself a copy of the book--it’s a fascinating read--and come join in the discussion. On Thursday, October 1st, we will have an event to launch our collaborative pastoral plan, a three-year plan to grow in faithfulness to God’s will for us. Stay tuned for details. And in the meanwhile, let's all join together in praying each day that God will help us to see and be faithful to his vision for our community.
Take your next step: Spend a few minutes reflecting on what God desires for our community. What is one way that we as a community might need to grow and change in order to be faithful to God’s dream for us? Share your response by adding a comment here on our blog.