By Heidi Goehmann

There are many scary things in this world. I might put poisonous snakes at the top of the list based on my irrational fear of them, but when I watch even a snippet of the evening news, I’m reminded that there are far bigger things to fear: nature and its power, gossip or slander and its ability to give me a jaded lens of half-truths, people and the evil they are capable of.

Fear is powerful. It has its purposes: It points us to a great and mighty God. It reminds us that He is holy and we need Jesus. It helps us react when someone pulls out in front of us in traffic. It gives us information as we walk into new situations and reminds us to ask questions before jumping off a cliff.

Fear also impacts our vocation, as church worker or church member.

Most of us have heard the statistics — the decline in church attendance, the drop in giving, church closures in most communities. Statistics are helpful. They keep us informed, and, when we ask where the statistics come from, how they were gathered, and who did the gathering, they can give us good feedback to evaluate, plan, and move forward.

But God is our leader. God is our sovereign. Statistics simply inform us.

I hear so much fear in churches today. And I know it’s scary. People’s jobs, people’s histories and heritages, people’s communities feel like they are changing, or even dissolving. Some of us have already done the painful work of saying goodbye to something we thought would always be there for us.

I want to remind church workers and church members today:

It’s not your job to save the church.

This should not lead us to complacency or, worse, apathy. We can’t sit back, shrug and walk away without a second glance or a consideration of what we value and how to treat it with the value it deserves.

But it’s so easy to act like God needs us. He wants us, but that doesn’t mean He needs us. The church will stand even as we watch our churches be plucked up and the landscape of what we know change. Ecclesiastes 3:2 speaks to this: “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.”

God does not change. Life, people and churches — they do change, and change is necessary for their growth. However, because God does not change, we are assured that He will continue to use people to do His work. And “people” includes you. Praise the Lord! I love watching God’s people be His hands and feet. It is a beautiful thing when complacency is not the king, but Jesus is.

But sometimes, even though we know God doesn’t need us, we want Him to. We want to step in as savior, when that is only Jesus’ place in this world. This “savior mentality” is false and it is harmful.

It is OK when God (occasionally or often) uses another person. It is OK when God (occasionally or often) gives you rest. It is OK when God (occasionally or often) uses another church.

The savior mentality deeply impacts the health of our workers, our churches and its members. There are three main problems with it:

  1. It’s exhausting. — We end up with run down, rather than filled up, workers and members. A constant reminder of the Gospel that Jesus saves is helpful.
  2. It’s not sustainable. — We will fail as people and as churches. When that happens, either the guilt comes in and we lean into Jesus and His great grace, His affection and His desire to hold and care for us in our repentance, or the shame comes in and with it greater fear. You can feel fear in a person and in a congregation when people begin to be angry and the chorus becomes “not enough” — not enough money, not enough energy, not enough people. The devil beats us down with the sadness, fear and anger. Jesus saves us from this too. We can come to Him as workers, as members, as a whole congregation and ask for His help in bringing a renewal of zeal and energy and to show us clearly how He is working in this world each day. 
  3. It’s disconnecting. — When we have relied on our own strength to save people, save the nation, or save the world, and the exhaustion sets in, we then become scared to enter into one another’s lives and to reach out to new lives because we know every life holds hardship and drama and we’re just tired. We start using language about “avoiding getting sucked in” and “those people.” But if we believe it isn’t our job to save people to begin with, we can just spend time with people, share Jesus and watch Jesus do some pretty amazing work.

There is a place for caring, a place for concern. These are good things from a good Spirit. There is also a place for remembering who we are:

Unnecessary, but chosen… as a person, as a church worker, as a child of God, as a servant, as a brother or sister in Christ, and as a congregation of Christ.

Never as a savior. We’ll leave that job to the One who does it best.

Photo Credit: Stained glass depicting the ascension of Jesus Christ on Sunday, June 10, 2018, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Algona, Iowa. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford