Bears and the kingdom of God

After almost a week of All God’s Children Camp I was sitting & having a conversation with some of the leaders. The conversation somehow turned from camp to recent issues with bears. The camp had seen a few of nature's fury friends in the past week. The trash had been too much of a temptation and had caused the advent of an overly friendly bear…


As we talked and discussed, this small group of adults began to share the antidotal advice we are all prone to bestow. We agreed on thoughts like don’t move, stay still, and remember, play dead. All of this  lead up to the humorous idea expressed by our District Superintendent Rev. Dave Rochford.  The group bantered back and forth saying that they should run, with Dave saying he didn’t have to outrun the bear, just the slowest one in the group. Then it dawned on me that the issue was not the bear, the running, nor this humorous story, but the fact that this is the way our churches function. We outrun the danger of death not by outrunning the bear, but by outrunning the slowest one amongst us to change. Our Churches are struggling and we too are struggling for this reason because we feel this is an okay response to our current predicament… Just outrun the one who is lagging behind.


This is troubling for two reasons:

  1. Change is not a response to faithfulness, but external stimulus.


This seems pretty straight forward. When we live with the external stimulus of death or irrelevance as our motivation, we miss the mark on faithfulness and instead try to simply outrun everyone else. This can be summed up simply as the, “do it better than them” style of ministry.

There have been many occasions in the Scripture where this is depicted when God’s people receive their inspiration for change not from God, but from something else. Take for instance, the people of God in Israel. All they want is to be like everyone else; they didn't want judges as a form of governance, they wanted a king! The king for them represents an external motivation to “outrun”, “be like”, or simply “fit in” with the rest of those around them. This is not from God. When we gain our call to be faithful we do not gain it from the desire to outrun, we get it from the desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. For too long the conversation has been about death:  a much needed conversation as churches close and die around us. It has always been framed in “if we don’t change we are going to die”. How about we frame it differently:  “if we don’t change to reach new people, different people, diverse people… we will not be faithful as followers of Jesus.” When we enter the conversation about change, we often leave Jesus out and instead hijack the conversation to focus on best practices. No dying church has ever said, I wonder what the best practices are; most likely they are of little concern. Thus, pastors have helped frame this conversation as change or die; and in doing so have perpetuated stimulus as the need for change. Instead it should be stated that if you do not change you will no longer be faithful, Jesus is calling us to change!


2)   We only have to change enough to outrun the others around us.


This is inherently flawed logic, but it is often the logic of the local church. If we could just do better than (_________ Church Name), then we would grow. This again puts a huge focus on the faithfulness or the lack thereof of another congregation. As a pastor I cannot count how many times I have been guilty of idolatry, the of loving another church’s __(Fill in here) ____. We need to change our focus; wishing  that our congregation would be the best that it can be, not just that it would simply be better than the others that surround us.


The apostle Paul advises us that we are to “run the race to win”. We as churches and pastors often run for second, third, fourth, fifth, but just not last; dear Lord never last, because of bears… In striving for second to last we never challenge our congregations to huge and unrealistic goals, but we instead find ways to play it safe and stay in the midst of the pack. Making disciples is always about running full speed ahead. It has an urgency that is not for the slow of foot, nor is it for those that are content with being truly second tier. Our goal must never be second to last, our goal must always be making disciples and striving for the very best.  

May you stay way from the bears!




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