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Eyes on Christ

 

Getting focused, staying faithful

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Presbyterians Today

I wouldn’t mind if church membership dwindled to 12 people, if those 12 were on fire for serving Christ, kept their eyes on Christ — and were able to pay the pastor’s salary.

This probably wasn’t the best thing to say to a new congregation who didn’t know my sense of humor yet. There were a few chuckles. Mostly, though, eyes widened with shock. I wouldn’t be surprised if some had second thoughts about calling me as their pastor.

In my defense, I would argue that I was in the Holy Spirit preaching zone — that place where the Holy Spirit eggs you on to ditch your carefully crafted manuscript for God-only-knows-what. But it wasn’t that. I was just a new pastor so enthralled with a sudden realization that I just had to share, right there and then.

It was a muggy May morning and I was preaching on Peter’s walk on water. I was trying not to wipe my sweating brow with a handkerchief. I didn’t want to look like one of those fire-and-brimstone preachers at a tent revival. So, with sweat dripping, I proceeded to preach. Impetuous Peter wants to join Jesus on the water. Jesus invites him to get out of the boat. To the amazement of Peter, and his friends watching from the boat, Peter begins walking on water. Not for long. Peter begins doubting. The sensible part of his brain whispers, “Um, Peter, you know this is impossible.” It’s then he takes his eyes off Jesus, looks at the troubling waves all around and begins sinking.

It was at that part I stopped preaching. Now would have been the perfect moment for a dramatic brow wipe, but I wasn’t aiming for drama. I stopped because suddenly my setbacks, mistakes and failures in life became clear to me. I had allowed the sensible part of my brain to tell me “I can’t” or “it’s impossible.” I had taken my eyes off Christ, and each time I did, I sank.

I shared my Peter moments and then invited the congregation to think about their Peter moments as a church. What were they focused on when they found themselves sinking? Were their eyes on Christ or were they focused more on the troubling waves of dwindling church attendance and aging buildings?

I wouldn’t mind if church membership dwindled to 12 people, if those 12 were on fire for serving Christ, kept their eyes on Christ — and were able to pay the pastor’s salary.

Perhaps the choppy waters of church survival would not drown us, if we kept our eyes on what Christ wants for us — not on what we want of Christ, I mused.

“Eyes on Christ” soon became our mantra and, over time, we became known as the rural church that was doing big things with so little. We were often asked “how?” Our answer: Eyes on Christ.

I’m in a new rural church. They’re excited to have a pastor. It’s been awhile. They have high hopes, and I’m sure some of those hopes are mistakenly placed in me and not on what Christ will do through us. I’ve refrained, though, from making my joke about dwindling church membership. It’s best they get to know my sense of humor first. But I have been vocal about how important it is to keep our eyes on Christ.

I think that’s why I’m excited about the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation. It’s an invitation that brings the church back into focus on what we are meant to focus on — to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. And it doesn’t matter if you are a tiny or a large congregation. Matthew 25 is an invitation that fits all. Because no matter who you are or where you are or how big or small you are, when our eyes are on Christ, the impossible becomes possible. I’ve seen it happen.

So, who’s with me? Who’s ready to get out of the boat? Who’s ready to walk toward Christ? His hand is reaching out to us, encouraging us, saying, “You can do this. You can be the church for today.”

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is editor of Presbyterians Today. She has stopped questioning her call to struggling rural churches and now enjoys the challenge of keeping eyes on Christ. She hasn’t, though, stopped telling bad jokes to her congregation. 

 

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You can learn more and sign up to become a Matthew 25 church at pcusa.org/matthew25

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