Can five words make a meaningful difference in your own faith journey with Christ? Will using these five words enable your church to grow?
As they relate to five practices we can engage in daily and weekly, the answer is yes.
Five words. Nine syllables. They are not unfamiliar, whether you stand as a pastor in the pulpit, or participate as a parishioner in the pew.
Prayers. Presence. Gifts. Service. Witness.
We’ve asked people to submit to these vows as they join a church in membership. We’ve said these words as we have joined a congregation. Perhaps they are so familiar we have forgotten the power they possess to alter the trajectory of our faith practices. We can recite them from memory, but we might have misplaced the priority these five words have for our lives and churches. Here is how we can reclaim these five words.
1. Prayers Matter
If we are a pastor at a church, God has placed us there for a reason. Praying for our church seems self-evident, but to grow our faith I think it means we have to involve ourselves in our congregation’s lives, in the life of the community. Instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you,” just pray for the person right then, right there. It’s immediate, and you won’t feel guilty later if you forget or get overwhelmed. Allow praying to be a sacrament of the present moment, whatever that moment entails. Nothing really happens without praying, which is why it is the first of the Five Words.
Prayer is not about getting something from God, like a Divine Room Service(we pray it and God must deliver it just as we wish) or the Almighty Slot Machine (if we pray in the “right” way, then we get what we want). When we pray, we grow closer to God. We commit ourselves to one another when we pray for others. You will only be as good a pastor as you are a faithful prayer. A congregation will only truly grow (spiritually and numerically) as its people function as a praying people. Prayers matter.
2. Presence Matters
Be fully present with your congregation—God has you where you are for a reason. Cease dreaming of the “better” appointment. Show up at events in your community. Cheering your child at a Little League game is ministry, so is shopping at the local store, or eating at the diner on the corner. Presence matters for parishioners as well.
If you are younger it is important for you to be present in worship, at church, as older people are encouraged by you. They see that the church and its ministries will continue after they are gone. They are enlivened by your energy and enthusiasm. Hope floats when you are present. If you are older it is important for you to be there as younger people are challenged to keep growing, and moving forward in the faith. Your presence helps them see a long walk of faith is achievable. Strength and commitment stand when you are present. Your presence matters.
3. Gifts Matter
No one wants to talk about money, so we try to ameliorate this vow by including, and even emphasizing spiritual gifts. Granting everything good about spiritual gifts and their working in our lives and churches, we need to reprioritize and manage financial giving, in our lives as pastors, and in the lives of our congregants. Money enables ministry and mission to happen. Sure, we can be creative, but Jesus had a treasurer for a reason: ministry requires money. Do you ask people if they are, or will give, before you have them join the church? It is a spiritual question—one that needs to be asked, and answered in the life of our churches.
Giving and money issues are the most pressing spiritual need or issue of the American church. We know Jesus talked more about money and possessions than salvation or prayer or love, but we limit our faith journey, and the growth of our church, by only preaching on money for a week or four in the fall of each year. Gifts matter.
4. Service Matters
If you believe something, typically you do something with what you believe. Faith leads to action. What you believe, you will do. From small churches to big churches, worship means many opportunities to serve—pastors don’t need to do it all. Why you be a part of a church, a member, and not engage in service with others who share your faith journey with Jesus? Where people serve, they stay. Where people serve, they love and give and share.
It’s tempting for pastors who give so much of themselves to want to be served, but that’s not why we are there. Someone probably should do whatever it is you find yourself doing on a Thursday afternoon, but you’re there so go ahead and take care of it with the heart of a servant.
5. Witness Matters
If you are experiencing something good, wouldn’t you want to share it with others? That’s what being a witness is about. You’re talking to others about the good you are experiencing in your church. You are sharing about the goodness of God that is happening in your life with people you encounter in your spheres of influence. While it may be hard in some places, there’s always something positive we can celebrate or share as a witness.
While there may arise a time when a witness means sharing the way of salvation with someone, we need not fear it or think we will “mess it up.” Holy Spirit does the work, we are merely the vessel, the witness. However it occurs, our faith grows as we witness to what God is doing. Our churches grow as we declare the saving power of Jesus Christ. When people experience goodness, they will share goodness. Witness matters.
You never know who is watching you as you live your life of faith. Taking these Five Words to heart as daily practices or habits of faith enable people to grow, and “spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.”