Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 19

“Scalable”

“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.” Acts 20:20

 

Have you heard of the term, “Scalability”? A number of weeks ago, Robert F. Smith was interviewed on the news program, “Meet the Press”. Robert Smith is a billionaire who famously paid off the entire education debt for the 2019 senior class at Morehead College in Atlanta, GA. His $34 million dollar gift was first inspired by a small act of philanthropy made by his mother.

During his interview with Chuck Todd, they discussed processes that are going to be needed for our economy to recover from this pandemic. Mr. Smith mentioned the word, “scalability”. He continued to mention this word many times as he talked about the specifics for the turnaround. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by that word, so I looked it up.  

By definition, “scalability” is an attribute that describes the ability of a process, network, software or organization to grow and manage increased demand. It is a functional quality of a system that can accommodate expansion without hampering the existing workflow and ensure an increase in the output or efficiency of the process.   

Whether the conversation is about the economy, medical treatments and testing or the educational system, the solutions, as Mr. Smith made the case, must be scalable. Grants and loans must be made available to all the small business owners as well as large corporations. Testing and eventually a vaccine must be able to be distributed to the masses. And students must gain access to a quality education system that can be replicated across the country.

This conversation triggered my thoughts about the scalability of the Christian church. Is our church’s system for spreading God’s Word, scalable? I’m pretty sure it is. The Holy Spirit has been given to live within the hearts of every believer. But If the Christian church is to enter into a recovery effort and process, practical scalability is going to be key. If the church is to become a relevant and vital witness in our society moving forward, our message, process and network must be more scalable.

Did you know that scalability is found in both the Old and New Testaments?

Exodus 18 describes a new scalable process to meet the needs of the people after the nation of Israel leaves Egypt. This new process helped to promote peace throughout that nation. After Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, visited him. Jethro witnessed Moses serving as judge for the entire nation. People stood around him from morning until evening waiting to be heard. Jethro asked Moses, “Why do you alone, sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.” Jethro responded, “What you are doing is not good.” He continues, “You and these people who come to you will only wear themselves out.” He says, “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice.”

Jethro’s advice and solution centers upon scalability. He tells Moses, “Select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring the very difficult cases to you.”

Moses, being the humble leader that he was, listened to Jethro. He did everything as Jethro had instructed. A process for scalable justice was put in motion, and the nation experienced greater peace.

Scalability can also be seen in the New Testament. It is found in the early church. Jesus gave the Great Commission telling the disciples to, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” (Matthew 28:19)

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, after Jesus’ ascended to heaven, it states that the disciples stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:53) After the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost, the Bible tells us that the early church made a scalable move. Not only did the church continue to worship in the temple courts, but they also began meeting in their individual homes. Acts 2:46 states, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” The final verse of Acts chapter 2 tells of the effectiveness of their scalable approach. It states, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

This scalable approach is also mentioned by Paul in Acts 20:20. Paul states, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.”  Paul points to ministry not only taking place in the public square but also in the privacy of people’s homes.

Some churches have used this verse, Acts 20:20, as a theme for their evangelism efforts. “20/20 Vision” was a catchy phrase to help give clarity and focus to their church’s efforts. I also thought this could be a verse used at Our Saviour’s, since we are literally living in the year 2020. Unfortunately, this pandemic has not allowed us to worship publicly in our sanctuary. Nor has it allowed us to use our newly remodeled fellowship hall or small groups to meet in people’s homes.

Yet, I think this pandemic gives us opportunity to think more deeply about scalable measures in our ministry.

Yes, it was exciting to enter into a new public phase during this pandemic and worship “Drive In” style. We had 115 people attend worship last Sunday. It was awesome!! Eventually, we will be able to return to worship in God’s house. When that happens, we will probably see a return of roughly 250 people to worship. But these moves still do not really respond to the question of “scalability”.

Our LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) Association just informed us last week that the position for new mission starts is not being renewed. This means that if new congregations are going to be started, efforts will need to arise from individual churches or have more regional coordination. I’m afraid many congregations today are simply looking at self-sustaining measures, let alone scaling up a process to spread the Gospel.

Would the conditions ever be right at Our Saviour’s to consider planting a mission church? Could we join with other congregations and plant a mission congregation.  But yet again, I think we are confronted with the question of scalability.

Now that we have entered more fully into the electronic, digital age of online communication, is this where scalability exists? I think so! New technology has always ushered in new ways of communicating and distributing information. Parchment, the printing press, newspaper, radio, telephone, television, cellphone, and the internet have all opened up new scalable ways to communicate.

At times, we have encouraged our members to bring a friend to church. That effort requires a new person to respond to a specific time and place and join some unfamiliar activity surrounded by strangers. Nothing can substitute for the warmth of human, face to face communication. But perhaps there are other ways to scale up. The early church recognized the use of individual homes in carrying forth God’s message. They also began writing down the stories and events of Jesus that could be passed along and read when convenient and appropriate. This written testimony definitely scaled things up.

 What have we learned about being the church during this time of isolation? It seems to me that online worship, devotions and letters provide a scalability that the church has only dabbled in. Instead of trying to wrestle a neighbor to attend a Sunday morning service, perhaps it might be more effective to point them to an online service to begin with. Better yet, directly send them the link in an email that would include worship service, devotion, or whatever else one has discovered meaningful – maybe even watch together on the screen.

This morning, a member of our congregation forwarded a link to me, to a beautiful video message of hope. I was able to access that message at a time convenient for me, in the comforts of my own home, undistracted by other outside factors.

I’m not dismissing the power of public worship. I can’t wait until we meet again in God’s house to sing pray, hear God’s Word, worship and hopefully share hugs. But in terms of considering all the methods available to make God’s message scalable for a world in desperate need, might we consider new possibilities? Like new wine skins, as Jesus talked about, we might discover new ways to obey the Great Commission and help restore broken hearts to God.

Perhaps it begins with simply being a little more intentional. If you are blessed by a message, online worship, devotion or video – perhaps the Holy Spirit will move you to forward it on to a friend, neighbor or even someone more random.  

Looking forward to scale up with all of you!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

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