Thirty years ago I was serving on our church’s worship committee and we were planning the Advent series on the second coming of Christ. An hour into the meeting I suddenly blurted out, “I don’t want Jesus to come back! I want to see our baby daughter grow up; I want to fix up the old house that we just bought; I want to get better at this career that I've just begun.”
The meeting stopped cold; there was an awkward silence.
Finally our pastor fixed his eyes on me and very gently but firmly asked, “Syd, do you long to live in a world in which the word ‘cancer’ has no meaning? Do you long to live in a world in which it makes no sense to have an annual “World Hunger” Sunday? Do you long to live in a world in which there is no gap between the rich and the poor? Do you long to live in a world in which new uses must be discovered for prisons?”
I looked at him somewhat shamefacedly and quietly replied, “Yes, I do. I do long for all of those things.”
“Then you do long for Jesus to come back,” he said.
Everyone heaved a sigh of relief and the meeting got back on track.
That experience taught me something I’ll never forget: our longings are central to who we are and how we walk with God, and sometimes we need help to name them well. As Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless Lord, until they find their rest in Thee.” It’s those deep-seated longings that make us restless.
Congregations are places filled with longings.
We long to receive (as a benediction puts it so beautifully), “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
We long to belong to churches that serve as sturdy spiritual homes — places where folks of all ages and all abilities and all backgrounds belong together.
We long to see brothers and sisters encouraged through all kinds of struggles.
We long to mature in Christ and to shine with his light, be seasoned with his salt, be overflowing with his aroma.
But do we dare to listen to our longings? Do we dare to name them well? Do we dare to let them breathe with vibrancy and hope?
The church is easily shaped by fear, by discouragement, by forecasts of decline, by ironic cynicism. It’s safer to predict failure than it is to share hopes, dreams and longings.
We, at the newly launched Faith Formation Ministries (FFM), understand our calling to include being “stewards of congregational longings.”
Every church is a center of hope, a new creation formed through the blood of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to embody and testify to the goodness and faithfulness of the Father, Son and Spirit. We at FFM are here to partner with congregations in naming and addressing such longings.
In June, we will have the privilege of introducing our new ministry to the delegates at synod, and our message will be simple: “As the Lord invites us to be transformed by his grace so that we become salt and light that seeks to bless the longings in his broken world, we at FFM commit to encourage you in strengthening your faith formation work in any way that we can.”
One might say that our longing at FFM is to “sturdify” congregational longings.