At several District conventions over the past weeks and months, delegates have seen a variety of videos called ‘Mission Moments’. Most of these videos dealt with a person or congregation that was doing some form of outreach or community service of some sort in their community. None of them showed anybody in worship, rather the focus was more on time outside of worship: working a soup kitchen, volunteering to sit in the local fair booth, or having a community picnic. All of these things were designed to show the congregation reaching out to their surrounding community in ways other than the worship service, so that the hearers might come and hear the Gospel.
Now I do not want to discourage others from trying to reach out to their communities in such ways in the hope that some might come and worship with them, although I would argue it is with the faulty assumption that because a church holds a community picnic, it will yield converts.
What I do want to encourage is something more Biblical at conventions. In Romans 1:12 and 15:32, St. Paul, speaking about his plans of coming to Rome, says that he wants to come so that he might be refreshed by their company, that they might encourage him, just as he encourages them.
What is St. Paul looking for? He is not looking for picnics or fair booths or soup kitchens, St. Paul wants to see baptisms, he wants to hear sermons, he wants to see confirmations and professions of faith. Not because he has not seen them in other places, but because he wants to see them taking place in Rome. St. Paul wants to see the acts of the Church taking place in Rome as he has in other places. That is what will refresh him; that is what will encourage him: the news of the Gospel being spread in Rome. And likewise, that is what will encourage the Romans: St. Paul reporting on those same acts occurring in Galatia, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica and beyond.
That is the work of the Church that people take refreshment from: hearing that a baby has been baptized; hearing that a man long hostile to the Church has been confirmed; hearing that a young mother is taking an instruction class so that she might receive the Lord’s Supper. The Church is energized, it is encouraged, it is refreshed not when it hears others doing what anyone can do, but when it hears others doing only what the Church can do.
The Lion’s Club can hold a picnic, only the Church can baptize. The Boy Scouts can serve a meal, only the Church can offer the body and blood of Jesus. The city council can organize a community clean-up day, only the Church can forgive sins.
So at future conventions, do not tell me about the work that anyone can do; rather tell me about the work that only the Church can do. Encourage me, refresh me, build me up with the news of baptisms, confirmations, Law and Gospel preaching, sins forgiven, and the Lord’s Supper administered.
Don’t think that sounds interesting enough to tell others?
Ask a congregation with very few young people about the baptism that just occurred. Ask a congregation that is small and struggling about the new member that was just welcomed through confirmation. Ask that congregation in that small community about the man living in sin that repented and received absolution. Ask that missionary overseas about receiving the Lord’s Supper for the first time in weeks because there is no local congregation.
Tell somebody else about your picnics, I want to hear about the Gospel being preached and the sacraments being administered.