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As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For He says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” -2 Corinthians 6: 1-2

So let me share a perspective with you.  On Committee On Ministry (I am moderator for the Presbytery),  I talk with many churches. And I do not just talk to sister congregations in the Presbytery but because of trainings and connections inherent in our system of church; I talk to and hear stories from pastors and sessions around the country. And there are three basic types of congregations—

Some, and a very few in number indeed, seem to be healthy and happy, growing financially, spiritually, and in fellowship.  These churches are often only in this state for a while, transitioning to #2 in a decade or less.

Most have one or two issues and live like most Americans from collection to collection, but overall they are decent folks trying to follow God together and they impact the community just by being God’s disciples.  Pew Trust stats show most “megachurches” are falling quickly into this category as well.  Most of these are churches with memberships of 100-150 (the vast majority of our PCUSA churches fall here).

A number (bigger than the first group but much smaller than the second) who have devolved in static and rigid systems, so engaged in infighting and decline in every way that they are dying and taking others down with them.

It is sobering and needs a bit of debriefing that I on COM encounter so many of the #3 group that it sometimes seems like this is where we are.  We hear statistics that the membership of the church is in decline, that the number of folks not attending church is increasing, that we cannot meet our budget, and that we are irrelevant and hurting ourselves.  It can be depressing.  To be truthful it can be a great burden. That is what the Hebrews passage above is addressed to—those who are so focused on the problems they fail to see the Hand of God and have hope!

But that is not the true picture of the church.  The vast majority of congregations are #2.  The statistics from the National Church support this. And the recent trend to see more committed folks as members, with an increase in mission giving, local mission projects, and a growing overall sense of purpose is shown in survey after survey.  People love Jesus passionately and it shows. But we all need some debriefing as we are trained to think of #3 by our media and overall outlook, so we see the few issues or the lack of stability in economic terms as signs of #3 when they are actually hopeful #2s.

Which would you say First Presbyterian is?  I can firmly and without hesitation say we are #2.  That’s right, there may be a few issues, and you know that in our 124 years of ministry together there have been some dark days.  Read the history (on website), when it was very uncertain whether the budget would be paid, when the women all contributed a dime a meeting to pay the pastor, when the original group divided over issues of building use and became the Methodists and Presbyterians of today’s Lake Park.  Yet through it all, the churches keep hope and the church actually is still part of God’s Mission and Call here.  How can you go far in Lake Park or the county and not encounter a Presbyterian making a difference because of Jesus!  We are active in so many ways, from listening to folks we meet, to being involved in the town, to feeding and providing basics like rent and gas and clothes to those in need, to sharing fellowship across church lines, to giving ideas to missionaries in Iraq that bring thousands to Christ or making sure school kids in Sudan have books and soccer balls in the midst of war.  God is at work in us.

So don’t be fooled into thinking that the times and issues we face are new—they are as old in our congregation as our congregation.

And don’t be lazy and think that this means we can rest and it’ll all be ok. We are called together to stick it out, pool our resources and talents, love God together, and partake what is the mission of Christ here. We are in this together with the Spirit guiding us in God’s favor.

— Pastor Tim

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