Over the last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of representing Park Hill Christian Church at the Great River Region Regional Assembly in Vicksburg, MS. Park Hill had a great showing at the assembly with not only the voting delegates (Jennie and David Gregory, Allison and myself) attending, but also Miles and Trela Cook, with Miles representing the Regional Elders, Kristen and David Beach, with Kristen as a GRR staff member and a key member of the planning team, Susan Crosby as the pianist for the choir, and, of course, Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton as Executive Regional Minister. This was my first Regional Assembly to attend in person, and I am so grateful to PHCC for giving me this opportunity. I had a great time, met a lot of wonderful people, experienced some truly spiritual worship, had my eyes opened and my ideas challenged, and ate a lot of delicious, Mississippi Delta food. I am also truly blessed to have been able to take Sunday off to rest, leaving worship at PHCC in the more than capable hands of Minister Billie, Elder Bob Choate, our organist Leann Jones, and the wonderful volunteers that make up our praise team. I spent Sunday resting, reflecting, and overall feeling fat and happy. My spirit is filled, my church batteries are recharged, and I am excited about the future of PHCC, the Great River Region, and the Disciples of Christ national movement.
As I was thinking about how fat and happy I was on Sunday, I was reminded of a workshop I attended by Tennessee Regional Minister and Vanderbilt Divinity School professor Rev. Dr. Christal Williams. During this workshop, Rev. Dr. Williams challenged the ministers and church representatives present to recall John 21:15-19. This passage takes place immediately after Jesus and His disciples have finished a great meal of fish miraculously caught by the disciples immediately before returning to shore. Jesus turns to Simon Peter and asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Simon Peter, of course, replies “yes” all three times. Each time Simon Peter answered, Jesus gave a different response: first, “Feed My lambs;” then, “Take care of My sheep;” and finally, “Feed My sheep.” We know that nothing recorded in the gospels is without meaning, and it is widely accepted among Christians that when Jesus told Simon Peter to take care of and feed His lambs and sheep, He was telling all of us, as Christians, to take care of our neighbors – to take care of God’s people.
We do a great job of that, if we consider our neighbors to be our friends and family, and God’s people to be those who walk into Park Hill Christian Church every week. This church takes care of each other better than many families do, and you deserve praise for that. But what happens when we keep all the sheep in the pen and feed them there week after week? Like me on Sunday, the sheep become fat and happy. They become comfortable, and we become comfortable with that routine. But what about the sheep wandering in the fields? What about the sheep who slipped out of the pen and are off on their own, or have become injured or sick and can’t make it back to the pen? What happens to them? Friends, when Rev. Dr. Williams made that point, my breath caught in my chest because I know I am complicit in keeping this congregation fat and happy. I have become so comfortable with leading worship and preaching to the same 125 people every week that I have ignored the other 7 billion people outside our doors.
There is a lot of concern in the United States right now about saving the Christian church. Membership is down across all denominations, and the overall view of Christianity in the country is less than favorable. So how do we fix it? Rev. Dr. Williams says, “It is certainly not by sitting in our comfortable sanctuaries and listening to preachers on our state-of-the-art sound systems.” We must get up off our fat and happy bums and go take care of God’s people – the ones we refuse to make eye contact with on the corner of every intersection; the ones we shrug our shoulders at when they ask us for some spare change; the ones whose personal problems make us uncomfortable; the ones who believe the church has abandoned them because they are not worthy of Christ. These are the lambs and sheep that Christ wants us to feed and take care of. The members of Park Hill Christian are well fed and comfortable. Now, it is time for us to go and provide the same nourishment, both physically and spiritually, to the rest of God’s people.
In Christ’s Love, Minister Logan J. Smith