“Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So Philip got up and went.”Acts 8.26-27
A paradigm shift. An epiphany. Eureka! How would you describe discovering an idea that turns your world upside down?
This past weekend, All Saints’ hosted Jim Griffith, a church growth consultant. Amidst the nuts and bolts of observation and analysis, Jim hammered home one major idea: the Church needs a paradigm shift. Our current mindset is, “Let’s wait for people to come.” It needs to be, “Get up and go!”
When the Church was the dominant force in the culture, waiting for people to come was a perfectly viable mode of operating. We imagine the Church exerted a gravitational pull, that it was the center of the community around which people and other institutions orbited. Whether or not that is a historically accurate picture is a subject for historians to write papers about. But regardless, 21stcentury America is emphatically notlike that. On a Sunday morning, ~19% of the population in North Carolina is in church. Waiting for people to come to us is not a viable way of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
And, in truth, it never has been. We read from Acts chapter 8 about Philip and the Ethiopian at this week’s Wednesday Healing Eucharist. The story begins with God telling Philip, “Get up and go!” If we wanted a motto for Church growth, I don’t think we can do any better than that. Get up and go, there is work to be done out there. And Philip listens! He goes, and then when he arrives at the road, he pauses again, to listen for the Spirit. This is a vitally important part of this story—how does Philip know to get up and go? He is listening for God’s direction. He is praying. Prayerful listening precedes action.
When Philip meets the Ethiopian official, the man is reading the Hebrew Scriptures. Philips asks him, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” The Ethiopian responds, “No! How can I, unless someone guides me?” This is where we are as a culture. 19% of the population in Church on a Sunday morning. How can we expect people to experience the abundant, life-changing, liberating love of Jesus Christ unless we share it with them? How will we share it with them…unless we get up and go?
This is a paradigm shift for us. It may just turn our church world upside down. It will be costly. It will require what I call “holy weeding” as we look at the programs and ministries we currently devote energy and resources to. Like Philip, we need to pray and ask for the Spirit’s guidance as we go about this work. And I am positive (take it to the bank!) that as we pray, we will hear God saying to us, as individuals and as a community: “Get up and go!”
The Rev. Michael Whitnah
Assistant to the Rector