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Questions From The Outside: Can I Trust You?

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  • Background
    • The idea of folks who don't go to church and how to attract them has become one of the hottest topics in the country, and also right here in our little part of Jacksonville.
    • Part of the reason why some churches will change names or rethink their messaging is because they're trying to attract new people to join
    • We can understand why that might be an important goal here locally: last count there were thousands of new people that will be living both in our backyard, but also all down Phillips Highway.
    • 43k folks just within the greater San Marco/Southbank area.
      • 32% don't have any affiliation with any church (13,760)
      • 71% are not actively participating in any church. (30,530)
      • 6.6% actively identify as PCUSA (2,838)
    • But, I rarely - if ever - hear church ask what questions folks who don't affiliate or aren't participating are asking us who do. We treat it as if we have the magic formula and so long as they feel like that conform to our way of thinking, we're going to grow.
    • Instead, it might be worth it to spend a few weeks answering some of the questions folks who are on the outside of the walls are asking us.
    • We've asked this question in a couple different ways:
      • Via the quadrennial American Beliefs Survey
      • Via Twitter
      • Via just conversations with new friends and colleagues in the community.
    • We can bring it down to four major questions the church is being asked:
      • Can I trust you?
      • Will you answer the questions I wrestle with?
      • What if I don't believe anymore?
      • Are your priorities straight?
  • Today, we dig into the first question: can I trust you?
  • The answer I want to offer: It depends on our roadblocks and what we are willing to remove.
    • This is a familiar passage when we talk about individual sin: that if there is a part of us that is so likely to cause us to transgress into committing sin, according to Jesus, it would better to just amputate oneself than to continue
    • This hyperbolic language is striking - even for us today, but it brings home Jesus' point.
    • But I wonder what if we consider that this could not just be applied individually, but also corporately?
      • If we think about the scandals that have affected the church - especially ones of abuse - we can see the consequences of trust.
        • These scandals often point to a need to retain institutional control and power
        • This is why, so often, allegations are swept under the rug - at a point, it's about preservation of the body, and not remove what caused the sin.
      • Clergy are bouncing around at their lowest trust level ever - around 37% of people trust pastors
        • And, truly, it makes sense as projections of the institution, we carry a double burden - both personally and professionally.
        • When we become caretakers of institutions over removing stumbling blocks, we rightfully give people a reason to second guess.
      • Certainly though we can also think beyond the scandals to just trying to preserve the body over removing stumbling blocks
        • Fundamental to so many stories of those who don't attend church is tossing up surprise roadblocks when someone's 3/4s of the way down the road without a good way to u-turn.
        • It's great to say "love everyone always" but what really does that mean if you don't fit within someone's definition of who is "saved"?
        • And at what point are those stumbling blocks actually part of the gospel, or rather just part of maintaining a human artifact and not the good news?
  • I COR
    • This is in part what Paul is trying to get to in this passage
      • Paul has every right to earn his keep - in this whole section, he talks about the ways both "the church" and "the world" rightfully provision for those in labor for ends. Even the animals are given feed as they work.
      • Yet Paul is acutely aware that at some point, it may draw people to doubt the sincerity of the gospel.
      • This is why, for instance, I encouraged L&A to make a rule that the salaries among full-time staff are no more than 100% away from each other. No pastor needs to be making 100k while other employees are barely able to survive.
      • It may also be why, as much as I'd love to, the idea of a pastor luxuriating at Epping or San Jose on his or her own membership might cause someone to question the work of the gospel - not to say I don't really, really, really enjoy when you all invite me.
    • But isn't this all about the foundations of trust? To say clearly that we are consistent with what we believe, we are who we say we are, and when we see barriers and inconsistencies, we work to remove them?
  • So if we are truly to be a church that attracts people who aren't affiliated and aren't attending, we must be trustworthy first.
  • This trustworthiness requires us ask what matters most - and that is the gospel. Anything short of that ought to be on the "chopping block," so to speak. And those of us who will represent the gospel need to think about what it will mean to represent it, and what we may need to willing to let go of.

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