[I wrote this article for my church’s publication, The Messenger.]

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

[2 Corinthians 5:16-17]

Church Silhouette
Image by sbisson via Flickr

Spiritual renewal can be a difficult process, especially for an entire community.

The hope of renewal begins with an admission that things are not as they should be, that we are not who we should be; and humans can be self-unaware at times.  It is no small thing that our church has taken the first step of renewal; we recognize that we do not have it all together.  Humility is the right stuff and Oneonta has it!

We anticipate some exciting adjustments for 2011 and great things are happening already. We collectively agree that change is necessary and have moved to enact it, but let us ask; “Are we engaging this process of renewal?”  In the midst of arranging service times, enhancing appearances, honoring the past, growing in size, and celebrating leadership (each necessary in its own right) have we preoccupied ourselves with the “flesh” of the church without regarding the work of Christ in us?

Whenever the Spirit began to move and renew the people of Israel, the first things to go were the idols.  Interaction with other nations, business pressures, and the very human desire to worship caused people to drift from the worship of God to the worship of convenient replacements.  It was necessary, then, for God to consistently turn the people back toward Himself; when His prophets arose, the false deities fell.

Identifying and disposing of idols was considerably easy for God’s people in those days; search the land, cut off the heads/hands of all profane effigies, and uproot every sacred tree.  These days, however, idols do not readily present themselves.  We may not worship stone, but we can certainly worship our buildings.  We may not worship trees, but we can worship our campuses.

Anything other than God that occupies our hope is an idol.

Which idol do you believe will make our church a vibrant community again?  Pastors?  Staff?  Music?  Money?  Growth?  Change?  If we trust in these to renew Oneonta we will be seriously misplacing our faith.  Now pastors, staff, music, money, growth, and change are not inherently bad; we simply hope that God will use them to fulfill his purposes in our midst.  The problems come when our hope in these things is not firmly secured in an active dependence upon the renewing work of Jesus.

The sad truth is that Oneonta can grow without renewal (cf. Revelation 3:1-2).  It is not a prerequisite for wealth and size.  We can become a driving force in our area by a number of paths, but if we are not a humble community captivated by the power of our God, what good will it do us?  Or anyone?

Let us stop regarding the flesh and look for the creative work of our Leader.  This year, let us celebrate as new creations, hoping in the plans of our relentless God.

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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