Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
In the temple He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, He drove them all, with the sheep and the oxen, out of the temple; and He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make My Father’s house a house of trade.” John 2:14-16
Having thoroughly discussed the “gaps” between what our church is and what Christ has called it and us to be, this next unit will focus on concrete steps to transform our churches and fulfill our call to be Apostles, people who spread the Gospel.
The first step is a desire for the church to be transformative. If the church is only in maintenance mode, it will eventually die. Because if our goal as a church is just to stay in business, if all we do is live from one year to another, we are actually losing ground. Why? Because maintenance is not attractive. Imagine a church slogan that says “Come to our Church—we’re out to maintain ourselves.” That doesn’t sound attractive at all. Now imagine a church slogan that says “Come to our Church—We out to change the world, starting with you and me.” Someone that speaks with conviction is very attractive. There is not a lot of conviction in the world today. In fact, most everything in the world is actually pretty mediocre. Conviction is like a breath of fresh air.
As we get older, I would like to think that defining our purpose in life becomes more important. A child thinks his purpose in life is to play video games. For an adult, (and even for a child) there has to be a greater purpose than having fun and gratifying self. To serve God and to help others are two very great purposes, two things that are very attractive.
In today’s Scripture verse, we can feel the frustration of Christ as He entered the temple and saw that it had become a place of commerce more than a place of worship. If Christ came and visited our church communities, how would He find them—as places of retreat and refuge, as places of worship and renewal, or as places of commerce? Would He find that we spend more time raising funds or distributing funds? Would He find that we spent more time talking about the Gospel or sharing it? Would He rate our parishes as more maintaining or transforming?
We have discussed previously that the desire of all members of the Church should be transformation. Sure, there will be days when we will “show up” for worship and get nothing out of it. That’s normal. But there needs to be days when we show up for worship as if we are thirsty travelers, and allow the grace of the Holy Spirit to wash over us like water in a desert oasis. If we always show up stodgy and proud, we will never find transformation. If we show up humble and “needy” (in need of transformation and grace), we are more likely to be filled with it. If our churches’ greatest desires are just to keep the doors open and pass the faith to the next generation, they will die eventually, as a good part of the next generation will not stay with the church. However, if our churches’ greatest desires are to be places of transformation and renewal, they will, in fact, grow, because transformation and renewal are becoming even more and more needed in the world today.
One of the best book titles I have come across is called “Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission” by James Mallon, a Catholic priest. It’s mere title provides and inspiring theme. We all look around our houses periodically and decide it’s time to upgrade the counters or do some new landscaping. It’s time we look around our parishes and see what needs upgrading and renovating, so that we are moving from the proverbial “let’s hold on to what we have” to “Let’s spread this Good News!”
Our goal as a Church is not to merely survive but to thrive. So let’s work to build thriving communities where transformation to become more Christ-like in character and purpose are top priorities.
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that He may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretch out without wearing; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Thou dost hold my eyelids form closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, I remember the years long ago. I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit. “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has His steadfast love forever ceased? Are His promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up His compassion?” And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yea, I will remember Thy wonders of old. I will mediate on all Thy work, and muse on Thy mighty deeds. Thy way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? Thou art he God who workest wonders, Who hast manifest Thy might among the peoples. Thou didst with Thy arm redeem Thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. When the waters saw Thee, O God, when the waters saw Thee, they were afraid, yea, the deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; thy arrows flashed on every side. The crash of Thy thunder was in the whirlwind; Thy lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Thy way was through the sea, Thy path through the great waters; yet Thy footprints were unseen. Thou didst lead Thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77
Don’t settle for who we are as Christians and as parishes. Let’s strive for transformation!