From The Pastor

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I was privileged to participate in a meeting with Pr. Gemechis Buba, Director for African National Ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Pr. Buba’s roots are in the Mekane Yesus Church ( of Ethiopia, which is the fastest-growing and now one of the largest Lutheran church bodies in the world.

Pr. Buba reflected to us that there are two reasons the Mekane Yesus Church is growing so rapidly. The first is devotion to the Scriptures and prayer, and the second is that it is lay-driven.

Would people describe our congregations as “devoted” to the Scriptures and prayer? Devotion implies more than lip-service. When three out of four of our members are absent from worship every Sunday, and when attendance at Bible studies is microscopic, I’m not sure I would use the word “devoted.” When was the last time a meeting in our congregation stopped in the middle of a heated argument to pray and wait for God to reveal His will on the matter? Are our prayers more than a hasty “thanks and gimme more” sort of ritual?

The Mekane Yesus Church has 9000 congregations and 2000 pastors, so the laypeople have to take the primary responsibility for their church life. And like it or not, we are heading the same way. It seems to me that too many church members react to the pastor (positively or negatively) instead of to Jesus. People apologize to me that they won’t be at worship, or that they didn’t “come to hear” me. It’s not about me, or about any other pastor. When people stand before the Almighty to give account of their lives, God won’t care whether they liked or disliked a pastor or pastors. Pastors have our own account to give, and the Blood of the Lamb is the only thing that will get us through. But it is about Jesus, not the pastors.

We need laypeople to take more responsibility in the life of all congregations, especially in Clinton County where there are serious questions about how much pastor we can afford. That responsibility involves more than maintenance of the property; it means that each person needs to accept accountability for the relationships we share with one another in the Body of Christ. Each of us needs to work to create peace among members and to reach out with God’s love to invite and draw others in, and then to welcome them when they come.

As a pastor I certainly do have responsibilities. It is my job to lead worship, to pray, to teach others to pray, to teach the Bible, and to provide that pastoral care which is appropriate to the office. But I need people to participate prayerfully and to communicate helpfully if I am to do this.

Members should be demanding that I teach Bible studies for adults as well as youth in all our locations. I need to know what people would like to study, and what times and places would be best to do it. And if people love their church as much as they say they do, they need to show up on Sunday morning, no matter who may happen to lead worship. Every time a member is absent on Sunday morning without a good enough reason to satisfy an employer or schoolteacher, they are really voting with their feet to close the doors of their congregation forever.

So, are we “devoted” to the Scriptures and to prayer? Are we prepared to take responsibility for the spiritual vitality of our congregations?

Our congregations can grow and thrive just as much as the Mekane Yesus Church. Whether that happens is largely up to all the members.

Pastor Steve Shipman, STS