A few Saturday’s ago I conducted a memorial service for a person I never met. I had just a casual relationship with several of the children of the deceased. As far as I know the immediate family has no connection with any church in our community – except that at various times memorial services have been held for various family members at some of our local church buildings.
The family and friends gathered to celebrate the life of the one who had died. It was shared that this person had professed Christ a number of years ago, though there was no evidence of discipleship and growth in Christ. Earlier this week I spoke with someone I have been sharing my faith with for 15 years. They too claimed to have made a profession of faith – yet there is no external evidence of such a comes a mitment.
So, what is a church do with these kind of folks? Or better, what is a pastor supposed to make of such circumstances?
These kind of events and responses have me wondering: what exactly is the role of a church in a community? Today we acted as a community gathering place where family and friends could share memories. Can’t a community center or VFW hall or Elks Lodge do the same thing? Obviously there is the ‘God’ card…that is, in a community center, VFW hall or Elks lodge there is no specific spiritual point of reference (the family member who planned the memorial insisted we leave the cross at the center of our platform in a very visible place).
But are churches merely present for a ‘spiritual’ point of reference? What about the move in our denomination to plant churches in urban areas that may never own their own physical building? How does a church function in that context? Even in a politically conservative, morally upstanding kind of community in Southern Oregon, is a church merely a reminder of spiritual truth? Are we merely window dressing for people who otherwise have no understanding of who God is and His purposes?