Unglued church

When saying what’s true isn’t enough

Faithfully moving forward

By Sarah Robbins


It’s not enough to say what’s true.

Every night before our 11 month old goes to bed, my husband and I tell him what’s true. We list like a litany all the people and categories of folks who love him and pray for him. He was born two months premature and so we began this habit when he was in the neo-natal intensive care unit. It brought us comfort in the midst of the chaos and the fear. It felt important to us to tell him all those who were surrounding him, to say out loud what was real.

As new parents who love our baby dearly, we want to make sure that he grows up knowing that he isn’t alone, that his life from the very beginning is showered with affection and people who are ready to accompany him on his adventures. Yet, we have been reflecting on the fact that telling him each night what is true and how deeply he is loved is not nearly enough. We have to show him and demonstrate these truths each day–otherwise they will remain things that we say but have no real meaning behind them.

The same is true for the church today and each time we gather at the session/council table to pray, discuss, plan and lead. It simply isn’t enough to be able to say out loud to one another that we know what we “should” be doing with our time and our resources as a community of faith.

We cannot continue to repeat and include in our committee reports what is needed and what our responsibilities are currently. We have to take the next step, we have to be faithfully moving forward towards actions that reflect what we know to be true.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. It can be difficult enough to be part of the mainline church today and engage in conversations where the hard truth must be said. Many congregations are grappling with realities of dramatically declining budgets, a world that doesn’t automatically show up for worship and a leadership that can be inwardly focused. If that’s how you feel about the congregation you’re part of, stating that truth is never easy or fun.

But we are called to something more. It’s not enough to say what’s true — we need to pursue it, together. It’s not enough to read the statistics, the reports and the trends. Our responsibility is to act on and live out what is true. We won’t always get it right or make as much progress at each meeting or perfectly serve and love others. But we can keep striving and resist the stagnation of doing what we’ve always done and complaining about the same things that need to change.

I am often in a room full of pastors and elders who are willing to address what they know to be true, that something about their congregational life and the way decisions are made isn’t working. But thankfully they aren’t willing to stop there. They are seeking out resources and folks who will accompany them on the journey towards health and vitality. They have reached a point where they know that going it alone won’t yield the results they are hoping for in the future.

They wholeheartedly believe that Christ has gone before them and has sent them the gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide them. They deeply desire change in order that what they say is true each Sunday– that God loves everyone and calls them to do the same is made manifest. Saying this truth in prayers and litanies isn’t enough. Clothing, feeding and worshipping with those right outside our meeting room doors must be done, too.

Enveloping our infant in truth-full words and prayers is just part of what we are called to do as a parents. He will also need to see in our actions, in our relationships with others and in how we spend our time that he is loved in order to know the truth. We need to regularly encourage him, hold, laugh and feed him– to show that he is in fact treasured and loved.

The world is crying out for communities of faith to move from stating what’s true (and often what’s wrong) to action, from idleness to pursuit of service in the name of Christ. We say the truth in A Brief Statement of Faith that, “Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the broken-hearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.”

It’s not enough to just say these truths in worship or in devotions at a meeting. We must go and do likewise. In so doing we show our love for Christ and our love for others. Thanks be to God that we never do this alone.

Rev. Sarah Robbins is an at-large teaching elder in Pittsburgh Presbytery. She has served as pastor to two churches and currently serves on the Presbytery’s COM as well as in leadership of the Unglued Church Project. She is married to another teaching elder. Together they have one child and two basset hounds.