Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Let the Church Fly!"

Text: 2 Corinthians 9:1-8

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 6-8


There’s a story of a minister who was preaching very pointedly to his congregation one Sunday morning. He was wrapping up his message and said, “Now, let the church walk.” Elder Jones replied from his pew right up front, “That’s right preacher! Let it walk!” The preacher, excited by the response, became bolder:

“Let the church run!” Elder Jones stood up with mounting emotion. “Amen brother, let the church run!” Filled with zeal, the preacher shouted, “Let the church fly!” By now, Elder Jones is pumping his arms. “Oh yeah! That’s it pastor! Let the church fly!” The pastor continued, “Now brothers and sisters, it’s going to take a lot of your time, and a lot of your effort, and a lot of your money if we’re gonna make this church fly!” “Let it walk then,” said Elder Jones as he took hisseat. “Let it walk.”

            You know, there are a lot of folks who want to see the church walk, then run, then fly. But when it comes down to it, not many people want to provide the wheels, wings, or jets. A lot of people say they desire church growth, as long as they don’t have to expend much effort. After all, who has the time? Work. The kid’s activities. Vacations. Shopping. Community involvement. With all the other hustle and bustle, church often drops low on the priority list. At  times, church can be likened to a spectator sport where there are a lot more people cheering and well-wishing on the sidelines and in the bleachers than there are digging in out on the playing field. But let the ref make a bad call, or the team execute a bad play, and the crowd comes to life.

            It’s a well-known and, I’m sorry to say, a well-attested reality that in any church, whether of three hundred some members like ours, or of thousands of members like our Rivertree friends, only about fifteen to twenty percent of the members carry eighty percent of the load; in terms of leadership; in terms of giving time and talent; in terms of financial support. Now we are mighty fortunate -- mightily blessed – to have that fifteen to twenty percent who have commit- ted their leadership, their time and talent, their support to doing the work of Central Church. You know who you are, and after fifteen years, so do I. I thank from my heart those of you who do faithfully serve as officers; who staff committees; who attend worship consistently and regularly; who give of your resources freely and generously; who teach and attend Sunday School and encourage your children and grandchildren to do the same; who drive some distance to be a part of the life of this parish. You are the ones who make this church walk, then run, then fly; like a jetliner which begins its taxi slowly at the start of the runway, building up speed and momentum, then finally taking wing and soaring into the vast expanse of open sky. I know that’s the flight pattern I would like to see for Massillon Central. I accepted the call here over fifteen years ago because I believed that was possible. I still do. But it won’t happen when folks take the attitude of Elder Jones in the face of opportunity and challenge to become involved: “Let it walk then preacher. Let it walk.”

            In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, he acknowledges that most who hear the reading of his letter are the faithful; those of whom he is proud in their ministry efforts. Paul writes, “Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, for I  know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia.” Paul is referring here to the Corinthian Church’s commitment, along with other churches in Asia, to take a collection to be sent in support of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who  were undergoing persecution and hardship for their belief in Christ. To write about the offering was superfluous or needless because Paul knew they would come through.

            Don’t you know that – right or wrong – I brag about you; to family and friends; to people in this city; to my colleagues at presbytery; to ministerial colleagues right here in Massillon. Be- cause like Paul, I take pride in those of you who put your efforts into Christ’s ministry through this church. I spread word of your efforts to reach out to the needs of this community, and I share your vision to continue to grow in this good work. That’s part of my work as your pastor. And like Paul, I sometimes feel it unnecessary to appeal for your continued efforts because as I’ve learned over fifteen years, you consistently come through.

            Yet Paul goes on, knowing that even the most faithful need continuing encouragement and moral support. Speaking of those of the church in the province of Achaia, Paul says of the church in Corinth, “….and your zeal has stirred up most of them.” Stirring them. Encouraging them. Inspiring them. Moving them to become a faithful part of this churchwide mission project.

      There’s a word here for you who comprise that fifteen to twenty percent who, through your efforts and commitment, give the church jets to power and wings to fly. It is your zeal for what we are doing here – and for what we dream we can yet do here – which will stir, and encourage, and inspire, and move those of this congregation who spend most of their time cheering and well-wishing on the sidelines and in the bleachers to come out onto the playing field. It is your talking to those members and saying to them: “The runway and open sky lie ahead. Why don’t you become more involved? Good things are happening here, and you should be a part.” I suppose I can preach until my last fewdark hairs go grey. And at the rate I’m going, that won’t be long. But ultimately, it is your zeal, your enthusiasm, your belief in who we are and who we can become as Christ’s church whichwill convince the eighty percent of the less or non-involved to suit up and get out on the field.

            Paul goes on, “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” As a faith community, and as individuals within the faith community, we’ll get out of it what we put into it. If most of the church says, “Let it walk then,” that is precisely what the church will do. But if most of the church says, “Let it fly!” – and backs it up with time, talent, and treasure – “fly” is precisely what the church will do! Precisely what Christ calls the church to do!

            I’m going to dare speak to you as pointedly this morning as Elder Jones’s pastor spoke to his congregation. I’ll admit that I’m troubled by the reality that it seems too few of us are actively participating in the work and worship of Central Presbyterian. Sunday morning worship attendance has been on a plateau to slow decline over the past few years. Financially, we’re just keeping our snorkel above the surface of the water. Many parents seem to be lukewarm as regards keeping their children involved in the life of the church against the strong pull and appeal of dozens of secular activities. As many of our members are aging and unable to do the work they once did, too few younger members are participating, and too few are stepping up to assume vital roles of leadership. “We’re too busy!” I get that. Maybe it’s really less about busyness, and more about priority; about what’s truly important. If church isn’t, I suppose that’s anyone’s call to make. All that being said, from my perspective, those fifteen to twenty percent of whom I’ve spoken are pulling or have already pulled more than their fair share.

             Some may say, “So pastor, what are you going to do about it?” I or any pastor can only do so much. The fact is, this is your church. As I was reminded by a parishioner in Carrollton many years ago, we pastors are all interim. We come and go. You remain. And it doesn’t benefit any of us if I were to be like the small town pastor who rushed to the railroad station every afternoon to watch the 3:08 train go by. Members of his congregation thought this pastime was silly, so his church board asked him to give it up. “I will not,” he said firmly. “I preach your sermons, teach your youth, visit your sick, bury your dead, marry your young people, run your charities, and am chair of every drive it pleases you to conduct. I pray at every function you have, and represent you in the community. I won’t give up watching the train every day. I love it! It’s the only thing that passes through my daily life that I don’t have to organize, or push, or pull.” As you know by now, I am not that pastor, nor do I ever intend to become that pastor. But in this church, or in any church, the pastor can’t do it all. Fifteen to twenty percent of our membership can’t do it all. All of us who are able have to be the jet power which will allow this church - under the guidance and direction of God’s Word and Holy Spirit – to take wing and soar into that vast expanse of open sky.     

        So to the fifteen to twenty percent of you, stir up the other members of our faith community to join us on the tarmac. Let them know this is a good place to be. Encourage them to share with us the vital work that we’re about. To the other seventy-five to eighty percent, don’t let us do all the work. Don’t be like Elder Jones who would rather see the church walk at twenty percent power than give himself to the one hundred percent power which will provide the church the thrust to fly and soar to great heights. Years ago when Arsenio Hall had his late night talk show, at the end of his monologue, he would say “Let’s get busy!” Church….. Let’s get busy!