In 1995 the New York City Police Department made a significant shift in how it assessed its work, which was previously measured based on arrests made, reports taken, and cases closed. Isn’t that what police do? They make arrests, fill out reports, and close cases? Instead, the NYPD commissioner at the time, William Bratton, made a big shift in the department’s outlook, deciding that their success should be measured by lowering the crime rate of the city. He made this shift because he realized that while police do make arrests and close cases, that is not their purpose; their purpose is to serve and protect, and Bratton realized that the way to measure their purpose is to make their goal be to lower the crime rate, rather than number of arrests made. What Bratton saw is that arrests are an input that helps them reach their goal, but they are not the goal themselves. The church also has a similar challenge as the police. Many think a church is doing well if the pews are full and the budget is balanced, but is that what it means to be fulfilling the purpose of the church?
There is a consistent purpose for God’s people throughout Scripture. When Israel is saved from slavery in Egypt by God, He says to them that they are his treasured possession and that they are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19). Peter echos this reality in his second letter in the New Testament when he says that the church is “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
The idea of priesthood is common in both testaments and is understood to be central to the purpose of God’s people. Unfortunately when I hear the word ‘priest’ I think of some of the abhorrent scandals of recent history. Rather, a priest is simply someone who brings the world to God and is to bring God to the world. To do this well the priest must know the world, must have their hands dirtied and bloodied by the world, to bring all of it before God in earnest prayer that, as we pray every Sunday, God’s will would be “done on earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer moves us to action to bring God to the world.
Our example in all of this is, of course, Jesus. Jesus is the one who continually ate with those who had it the hardest. He heard their stories, he participated in their lives, and at times he wept over cities because of the pain that he saw. He also healed those who were sick, pronounced forgiveness of sins to the outcast, and gave food to the hungry. When Jesus ascended into heaven he left on this earth a small community of followers. This community of followers were to carry on the work of Jesus by doing two things: regularly meeting together in worship, being nourished by the body and blood of Christ, and following the Spirit’s leading to do the work that is placed in front of them.
The leadership of Cobblestone has done our best to discern the leading of God’s spirit to understand the way in which we are to be priests in this part of the world. We have made the goal to do 10,000 hours of service to those who are not members in one calendar year. This is what we have to keep in mind when trying to determine our ‘success.’ We are not being successful when more people come to the church, or when our budget is better balanced (these things obviously help), but when we serve more people. The more we do that, the more we are fulfilling our purpose and not just doing work, but actually being the church.