Push or Pull?
On Pentecost, last Sunday, I talked about two models of ministry: Push and Pull. Congregations have been working steadily at the Pull model for most of its existence. This model is similar to the Field of Dreams – “Build it and they will come” idea. In the distant past, the Catholic Church was the sole arbiter of salvation, so if you wanted to get into heaven, you had better find yourself in church. Now, the notion is to create programs and experiences to attract people and draw them to your church. The pastor sits in their office and works on the sermon and meets with those who come to them. The Pull model of ministry of church has dominated every aspect of what it has meant to be church.
But there is another way and we see it on full display at Pentecost: the Push model. The Push model of ministry is going out. In the midst of this COVID-19 Pandemic, we are getting a needed refresher in this model of ministry. As you recall, the Holy Spirit came upon the gathered followers of Jesus, who could all fit inside a room, and then swept over them, bringing what appeared to be tongues of fire upon each of them. This “breath” of God (for the Greek word for Spirit means breath) empowers them to utter new speech, equipping the faithful with new languages to carry the message of God’s love and deeds into all the corners of the world. God pushes the church outside and into the world around them.
When I was a hospice chaplain, this Pull model of ministry was my model of as well. I went to where the patients and their families were. Whether it was in their homes, a nursing home, a caretaker's home, where the patient was, I went and cared for them on their terms and on their turf. I was embedded with them. There was no reciprocal notion that they had to come to me or my office, or my church. My total care and concern was for them.
Friends, the time of the Pull model of ministry is done.
No longer will the unaffiliated with Christianity assume that the followers of Jesus (that’s us) have something of value, or that we have something worth getting involved in. They aren’t even sure we care about them or have their best interest at heart! What a shame that is. But what an opportunity we are being shown in the midst of this pandemic – that the church really wasn’t all about the buildings. It’s about the relationships.
That is what Pentecost reminds us of as well: we are called to be a people who push out across cultures, differences, discomfort in order to learn about the needs of those around us and then do something about it. We can all see the pain of Black America with the horrendous video of the arrest and killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. His words of “I can’t breathe” etched on our souls. If the church is to be trusted and seen as a breath of fresh air instead of an agent of affixation, we must, must, must adopt the Push model of ministry. It is my fervent prayer that we each individually and as a church take these lessons from Pandemic and Pentecost and go out and listen first and also share in the life giving breath of God with all who long to breathe.
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I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)