Service is the Point
They show up on the doorsteps of the church with surprising regularity. They are looking for the transcendent, and we give them. . . an invitation to sit on a committee. This description, argues Gustav Nelson, demonstrates what is wrong...
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They show up on the doorsteps of the church with surprising regularity. They are looking for the transcendent, and we give them. . . an invitation to sit on a committee. This description, argues Gustav Nelson, demonstrates what is wrong with the model of church membership that has dominated in churches for quite some time. According to this participatory model, the principal responsibility of church membership is to participate in the programs and functions of the local congregation.
While the participatory model has been successful in recruiting individuals to be there while the church doors are open, how well has it prepared those same individuals for Christian life apart from the church? What would happen if we really took seriously our rhetoric about service in the world as the focus of Christian discipleship? The answer, Gustav Nelson contends, would be a new model of membership, in which the church exists to empower believers for the ministries in the workplace and home to which God has already called us. Worship would become the central activity of the gathered congregation, the time when assurance of forgiveness is given, new life in Christ celebrated, and Christians are commissioned anew for the ministries of the week. The vision of the church would turn outward, with the purpose of training Christians to bear witness to Jesus Christ through service in the community throughout the week. The educational ministries of the church would focus on giving depth and vigor to our understanding of the vocations we fill daily.
Nelson is Director of Project 21, a program of the PC(USA) that is designed to find and articulate new models of congregational life. He is the former executive presbyter of the Des Moines, Iowa Presbytery.