Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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John 21:1-17

1 Peter 4:7-11

Over the forty days following His resurrection - according to the gospels -- Jesus revealed Him-self to His disciples on a number of different occasions.  Sometimes they recognized Him.  At other times, they didn’t. The latter was the case one early morning by the Sea of Tiberias.  Let’s read about this post-resurrection appearance; His fourth in John’s account (including Mary Magdalene) (Read John 21:1-14)

      Gloria graduated a few years ago from theological seminary.  Her first call was to a large suburban church near Columbus.  Her specific position was Associate Pastor of Christian Education.  Part of her job description read: empowerment of the laity.  In a nutshell, it meant that she had the job of recruiting members of the congregation to serve as Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders.  Gloria didn’t foresee a problem as there were over nine hundred members in that congregation, and only about ten leadership positions to be filled in the area of Christian Ed.  Gloria remembered the C.I.F. [for those unfamiliar with the process of calling pastors in our denomination, C.I.F. is an acronym for Church Information Form; basically a dossier of the church] repeatedly emphasizing the vital importance of Christian Education to the congregation.  Money was no object.  In fact, the church budgeted almost $25,000 a year for youth and adult education alone!

      Gloria began her work at the church in May giving her over three months to contact members and fill the various positions before the September Sunday School kick-off.  She was full of confidence and optimism as she began making calls.  The senior pastor helped by giving her names of several members who had expressed interest in teaching.  Over two months, Gloria called or visited dozens of parishioners.  By the end of July, she had managed to fill only two of the ten openings.  Discouraged, Gloria went to the senior pastor.  “Just about everyone I’ve called has some excuse,” Gloria complained.  “I called Steve Gainer, but he’s not sure how often he could be available as he has season tickets for the Bengals.  Barb Thomas said she has trouble getting her kids out of bed.  Kelly Nickle works late during the week and doesn’t have time to prepare lessons. Roy Adams said he doesn’t feel he knows enough about the Bible.  Maria Ditoro is mad at you pastor, so she refuses to teach.  Myra Evanovich said she’s taught for three years in a row and needs a break.  Myra suggested I try Steve Gainer, Barb Thomas, Kelly Nickle and Roy Adams.  She said I shouldn’t try Maria Ditoro because she’s still mad at you.  Pastor, where are all the folks who believe Christian Education is one of the most important programs in the life of the church?  If they’re out there, I can’t find them.”   Gloria recalled the underlined statement of purpose for the Christian Education program on their C.I.F.: We are a congregation called by God to feed our flock with God’s word.  Gloria has remained in that position for these few years, trying her best to build the program to a healthy level.  But it’s been an uphill climb with challenge after challenge.

      Gloria’s experience is by no means an isolated one.  And it’s no surprise that Christian Education leaders in the church are the largest burnout group in vocational ministry.  Nor is it a surprise that teachers and youth group leaders are the largest burnout group in lay ministry.  The may be, in part, as simple as this:  good Christian education, effective youth programming, strong Sunday School – everybody wants it; everyone knows how vital it is to a healthy church.  But too few are willing to step up and be a part.  It doesn’t matter whether the church is nine hundred members like Gloria’s, or three hundred members like ours, of fifty member like the church up the street.  It seems it’s always a small core of people who week-in and week-out; year-in and year out, do most of the participating, and most of the work.  One may observe that this is the case in most any volunteer organization.  Maybe so.  But I’d like to believe that unlike other organizations, we are responding to a higher calling; a divine calling.  We’ll get to that in a moment

      At any rate, when I’ve sought calls in churches, rarely did I come across a C.I.F. that didn’t cite Christian Education and youth programming as top priorities.  Yet rare is the church that has a waiting list of teachers and youth leaders anxious to get on board.  Some questions I’ve heard in churches, including here at Central:  Why have education programs in our church become stag-nant?  Why do some age groups seem to fall between the cracks?  Why do we have lots of kids in primary classes, then less in middle school, and even fewer in high school?  Why have we gone from three, to two, to one adult class?  Why doesn’t anyone seem passionate about Christian Ed? I believe the second part of this morning’s lesson from John speaks, on one level, to these recur-ruing questions and frustrating issues.  It’s a conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter; the only recorded post-resurrection conversation between the two.  It went like this. (Read John 21:15-17)

      Something of an odd conversation.  Jesus tests Peter three times with the same question: “Do you love me?”  It is significant that the first time Jesus poses the question, it is “Do you love me more than these?”  More than what? Peter must have thought. More than these other disciples? In context, it seems Jesus was asking a much broader question.  Do you love me more thanthis fishing business? This boat? These nets? This lifestyle?  Do you love me more than the matters of this world?  Do you love me more than that which would draw you away from your mission as my follower?  Peter, do you love me more than all this stuff?  Peter answered as I would hope any of us would if asked the same question:  “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”  Okay, Jesus responds:  “Feed my lambs.”  Packed into that response is Jesus saying:  If you love me Peter, as you say you do, then you need to answer a call.  And that call is to be giving of your time and energy to the care of my flock; to be about my business.  And don’t you remember that the first day I called you, Peter, it was to be a fisherman all right.  But a fisher of people.        Even as Peter had denied Jesus three times, he was subjected to this question of commitment not once, but three times.  By the third time, Peter in frustration cries out, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  And Jesus answers a third time, “Feed my sheep.”  I contend that the word here – the challenging question which calls commitment to task – is not a question set in the sands of time along the shores of Tiberias.  And it’s not a question for Simon Peter’s ears only.  It’s a question of and a call to commitment for all of us who share with Peter this journey of faith and following.  Jesus asks us: “Do you love me more than these?”  Okay.  “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.”  “Feed my sheep.”

      Perhaps Gloria found first-hand the reason Jesus found it necessary to chide Peter three times with the same question of commitment.  Jesus was challenging Peter, and in so doing, challenging the church Peter was destined to help build, challenging all of us to step up.  “Do you love me  more than these?  More than Bengal’s season tickets?  More than the hassle of getting the family up an hour earlier? More than the demands of careers and occupations?  “more than these?”  Yes or no. 

      If we answer the Lord’s question in the affirmative, we need to be prepared for the follow-up. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep?”  “Feed my sheep.”  As I’m sure these words resonated with

Peter long after the conversation by the seashore, may they resonate with all of us when we hear the Lord’s call.  And that call may very well come by way of our Christian Education program at Central Presbyterian Church which needs your help; your hands-on involvement; yourcommitment; your time; your participation; your care for and love for children of all ages.  Over the course of the next year, we are going to be at a crossroads regarding our Christian Education program.  While the few and the faithful have stepped up time and again to keep our Christian Education program going, this is an area where we frankly have not seen as much growth as we should.  Here we are right in the middle of a city and faith community where people of all ages are crying out for guidance, direction and purpose.  They need fed and tended.  We’re smack dab in the middle of a huge flock.  And above the sound of sheep and lambs, we hear a voice:  “Do you love me?”  Then do something about it. 

      If it feels like I’m doing a little arm-twisting today, I am.  We need you on the front lines doing the feeding and the tending.  Call Shannon or me tomorrow and let us know you’d like to learn

more about becoming a Sunday School teacher or helper; a youth leader or youth worker; a Vineyard leader.  There is a place for you.  You don’t feel equipped to be a leader?  Then be a student and allow yourself to be a lamb which needs fed and tended.  That’s how you grow as a disciple, and how you get equipped to be a leader.  Have your children and grandchildren here every Sunday, for we can’t feed and tend them if they’re not here.  Remember this: ours is not merely an appeal to volunteer or an encouragement to participate.  It is a higher calling; a divine calling to which we are obliged to respond if we’ve professed our love for Jesus, and promised to be His follower.  “Lord, you know everything; you know that (we) love you.”  Okay Central.  Now let’s get to work.


Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102