Last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, we wanted to have some good ole fashioned country food. You know how it is--you eat all that good food on Thanksgiving Day, rich foods, sweet foods, and something inside you longs for simple food from your past. So, I cooked up a pot of red beans, made healthy with vegetables and garlic but no fatty meat, and some brown rice to go with it. Then, I decided to make some cornbread. That would make it a real tasty country meal. I like to jazz up the cornbread with the addition of some creamed corn, some mild jalapenos, and some cheddar cheese but this time we decided to leave out the cheese so it would be a little more cholesterol friendly. I looked in the cabinet to find some canned creamed corn and none could be found so I thought I would run to the grocery store and buy a can while out doing a few errands. I found the vegetable aisle in the store and located the creamed corn. There were two choices--a national brand and the store brand that was a dime cheaper in price. I picked up the less expensive store brand and as I was walking to the check out counter I decided to look at the expiration date. I stopped in my tracks because the can I held in my hand had an expiration date that had run out two months before. I returned to the veggie aisle and got the more expensive national brand and checked its date and it was good so paid for it and went home. The cornbread turned out great and it was a wonderful down home country dinner with beans, rice, and cornbread.
Expiration dates are on products as a guide. They help us rotate our stock so we will always have the freshest products on our shelves. The product does not suddenly blow up or disappear just because we have let the expiration date pass on a product we own. Many times we have used products with expired expiration dates and the food we ate has been safe and tasty. That information serves as a guide for us so that we can use products in a timely manner.
We in the Church have made a commitment somewhere along the way to our church and to God. If we have been baptized or become a member of a congregation, we stood before a fellowship of faith and made promises to God and those who witnessed our vows. In some congregations the question is asked if the one joining the church will support it with their "prayers, presence, gifts, and service." In other congregations, persons are asked to give of their "time, talent, and treasure." In others the question is more vague but still very valid, "Will you be faithful to its congregation and support its ministries?" All of these questions that receive an affirmative answer are asking for a promise to be made that the one being baptized or confirmed or joining a specific congregation will be faithful as members attend and support a congregation.
Those questions and answers seem so long ago to many, however. If a person is about my age, 60 or so, and he/she was confirmed at 13, then 47 years ago those promises were made. A lot has happened over that many years. Do those promises ever expire? Are they like that warranty you buy on a television or a piece or furniture that are valid for a specific length of time? Perhaps we need to rephrase the questions so that we allow people to no longer be liable for the vow the made. Perhaps something like, "Do you promise to give of your time, talent, and treasure to this congregation until you are 55 or die, whichever comes first?"
For some reason it seems that some forget all about the promises they made at an earlier point in life. Their names remain on the church membership roster, and they would become angry if someone dared to remove it, but they rarely attend worship or support the ministries of the church financially, or serve in any way to contribute to the life of the congregation. Why do some become what we call "inactive members"--members in name only, a name on a roster, but never really involved in the Christian community that they seemed to treasure at the time in life when they made the decision to become a part of it? That question is as ongoing as the other hard questions of life.
Maybe it is just human nature to become part of an organization and then forget why we joined in the first place. Many of us have experience that when we joined a gym as a New Year's resolution. We were determined to "get in shape" in January but as February led to March we found our way to the gym less and less and then finally decided to give up on that idea. We often have the best of intentions but lack the will power to carry through with our goals.
The Church is a volunteer organization. It is largely led by volunteers. Sure, most congregations have a pastor who is paid something to be there, and maybe even a church secretary or custodian but outside of those positions, unless it is a very large church, most roles in the organization are filled by volunteers. Church members serve on the church committees, give of their funds to keep the lights on and the a/c working, and help others in one way or another through their efforts. When the volunteers begin to stay home and stop their support, then the church either has to recruit new volunteers or energize those who have fallen into neglectful patterns. If neither can be done, then soon the church will cease to exist.
I have been the pastor of my church for almost ten years. In that length of time, we have said goodbye to many devoted faithful members, people who were present in worship almost every Sunday and who gave of their resources to support the church. Those people were part of the backbone that made the church successful over its century long history. Now, we need others to step up and take over where those who are gone have left off. We need faithful members who will be present most Sundays and who will give of their time, talents, and treasure cheerfully because they believe it speaks of their love of God and neighbor. We have many who are active and involved but we need others to join them.
How do we encourage faithfulness? How do we create new habits to replace the ones that hinder some from being involved? How long does a faith commitment last? Does it ever expire? Or is it meant to be an eternal commitment because it was made to an eternal God?