“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” Luke 14:28
How are things in your church?
If you are reading this, or even hearing this, I suspect the mood within your congregation is not upbeat, that your numbers are a fraction of what they were in former times. Old friends with whom I call for tea each week tell me that most of those present in the church they attend are now over eighty years of age.
What word of encouragement can there be that is appropriate to the post-modern secular culture in which we live? People might say to look elsewhere in the world, but elsewhere in the world is not where we live. To try to bring in ideas from churches that exist in other cultures is as much a mistake as the Nineteenth Century missionaries who took with them European culture and ways of doing things.
Most clergy reading this will be much younger than myself, most will probably be better adjusted to the world with which the church seeks to engage. Perhaps these words will then seem unnecessary.
From the perspective of someone whose task has been to try to teach Religious Education to teeangers, the church would not seem to have a future. It is not that they disagree with the church, to disagree would demand some engagement with church teaching. No, it is that the church simply has no place in their thoughts. It is irrelevant. They would no more have interest in what the church was saying than they would in the results of contests in sports about which they know nothing. To try to talk about church teaching is to see eyes glaze over and faces go blank.
If one is a church leader, what does one do?
When training for parish ministry some forty years ago, there was no part of the course that taught us about planning for the future. The church had come through generations without much change and it was assumed that things would continue as they had been for years to come.
As I was to find to my cost in terms of mental and emotional health, no-one wanted church leaders who changed things It was the task of clergy to keep things going, to keep an eye on things and deal with any problems that might arise.
In 1986, when I was ordained, no-one could have imagined the Ireland that we now have. One of the things that must now be done is to think about the future, to make plans as to how God’s work is possibly going to continue.
Planning for the future is not some idea from the modern world. It is not something that has come from some management training course. Planning for the future is what Jesus tells his followers they must do in Saint Luke Chapter 14. He tells them they must be as sensible as a builder constructing a tower or a king facing a war. As anyone who follows the news headlines each day will know, coping with a war is an appalling prospect.
What does Jesus say, ‘For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
Don’t those words ask questions about priorities within churches? Is the church about building buildings? Is it about restoration work? Is it about a constant litany of repairs? How many buildings are there with a couple of dozen people? What message does the church send out when it constantly seeks to raise funds to maintain its buildings?
Then Jesus goes on, ‘Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.’
Jesus is urging hard-headed realism. I don’t know about your area, but in Dublin he would look around at the vast number of empty church buildings and ask if anyone is prepared to take decisions.
Is there any willingness in most churches to look at what is working and what is not working? What happens when someone asks about how often and at what times services take place? How often is anyone prepared to sit down and ask themselves that, if they were an outsider, would they want to join the church to which they belong? This is not some modern, trendy idea, this is the way Jesus expects his followers to think. This is what the Gospel reading is saying
Like the builder and the king in Jesus’ teaching, there is a need to be honest with ourselves. There is a need to sit down and think what the future will be..