Our Calling as Faithful Administrators
After the Fall Festival, I made mention to several of you that there might be reference to tractor pulling in this weekend’s sermon. Well, believe it or not, I was able to fit the tractor pull experience into today’s message. For those of you who may not be familiar with how tractor pulling sleds work, let me first describe them to you. Think of a horse drawn covered wagon, like in the old westerns. And positioned in the very back of the wagon are very heavy crates. They were put in the very back so that they would be easily removable when they arrive to their destination and their position above the rear wheels provides less tension on the horses. As this horse drawn carriage is riding down the wagon trail, the front axle breaks and the two front wheels fall off. While the back wheels are still turning, the front of the wagon is skidding on the dirt, making the wagon feel heavier for the horses. With each bump in the path, those crates slide forward in the wagon, pushing the front of the wagon harder against the ground, and making it nearly impossible for the horses to pull.
That’s the way that a tractor pull sled is designed. The front of the skid rests on the ground and the back of the skid is on wheels. There is a large heavy weight sitting above the wheels in the back. Once the tractor begins pulling the sled, that weight starts moving toward the front of the skid that slides on the ground. As the weight shifts from above the wheels toward the ground, the harder it is for the tractor to pull. Make sense?
For most of us, we are like the driver in the tractor pull of life. We are driving down the track as the weight of life’s sled gets heavier to pull. Moving from childhood into adulthood, responsibility builds on our shoulders. Burdens of all kinds, financial, relational, spiritual, occupational, health, etc. might be sliding toward the front of the sled. In many cases, we tend to turn around in the tractor seat, and become paralyzed by the intimidating size of the sled and the impossibility of finishing the pull.
“The Apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” The apostles are looking through the lens of scarcity. They see the incredible weight piled up on their sled and feel intimidated. ‘We don’t have enough faith!’ But Jesus said, “If you had faith [and you do!] of a mustard seed…” It’s not about having enough faith, it’s about trusting and using the faith that God has already given. Turn around and see the end of the track!
We have been called to be faithful administrators of God’s creation. And today we are going to talk about managing the ministry of the Church. You’ve heard me say it before and you’ll hear me say it again. “Everything we have is not ours, but Gods. We have been called to manage God’s creation.” We are gifted with unique abilities and talents that are useful in faithful administration. Remember that “Go forth and multiply” phrase from the creation story? That same command is given to us as disciples.
This message relates to the first question that was asked in the cottage meetings. What’s the purpose of a church and congregation? As faithful administrators, we are called to give thanks for all that He has provided, worship God through Word and Sacraments, and to spread the Gospel message through discipleship in our communities. A church (the Body of Christ) is not made of bricks and mortar but of living human beings in relationship with Christ and one another.
In the times of the early church, where did people worship? They met in each other’s homes. The building in which they worshiped didn’t matter because IT was not the priority. King David wanted to build a temple to the Lord, and God said ‘No’ because the Creator of all that exists cannot be held in a human structure.
The Body of Christ is not focused on the survival of a congregation that meets at a certain location like a Club for Christians. This building, in all of its beautiful and amazing handiwork is not the Church. It is a gathering place for the congregation (the Body of Christ) and we must always remember its place on the priority list of worship. The building itself can easily become meshed with ego and pride, adding additional weight to the sled and slowing us down in our mission of discipleship.
The Gospel text also speaks to our calling as servants. In one explanation of this text, a theologian writes, “The slave in the story does double duty, in the field and in the house, but the slave understands that his time and labor belong to the master. Even after a period of obedient service, there is no ground for boasting, no period of fulfilled duty beyond which merits begin to accumulate. Jesus came among us as one who serves, and so are his followers servants. There is no place or time, therefore, at which the disciple can say, “I have completed my service; now I want to be served.” Serving the church building is a perception that adds weight to the sled.
Our faithful administration is not simply to pay the bills of the church, struggle for a balanced budget, and make sure we have a beautiful place to come on Sunday mornings. We are called to be engaged in discipleship within the community. Our ministry is not within the walls of the church building but in the presence of neighbors and friends, sharing Christ’s Gospel message of love and forgiveness. The quilting ministry is a wonderful example of using our resources for others.
Most congregations struggle with faithful administration of ministry because the prevailing perception of church is limited to the confines of the building. Too many people see “church” as being able to pay the pastor, the utilities, the staff, and maintain the building. If the emphasis of a congregation is inward focused on what happens in this place, then we are missing a large meaning of church and mission. And another weight bogs down the mission of the congregation.
Faithful administration includes individuals providing the necessary resources so that the congregation can practice discipleship; sharing compassion, generously giving to others, initiating community events, and spreading the Gospel message. The Church was never meant to be a stationery place where everyone gets comfortable. While we need a gathering space for worship and to connect as a faith community, the mission and ministry of our congregation is directed outward. As one professor stated, the best question to ask a congregation regarding their ministry is this. If the doors to the church building closed for good, would anyone in the community notice a change other than Sunday worship?
The fame at the end of a tractor pull usually goes to the driver. But the work is done by the tractor. Jesus is the tractor of the church’s mission and if we trust him with the faith of a mustard seed (that we already possess), he will deliver a full pull. All we have to do is keep our eyes facing forward toward Jesus, serving with a thankful heart, and trusting the words of Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Amen.