The Parable of the Church on the Hill


The little church on the hill was a happy place for many years. The people who established the church had built a beautiful building. There was gold trim, exquisite stained glass windows, and marble floors. The place perpetually smelled of lilies and roses.

For years, the church was the tallest structure in the area. The steeple could be seen for miles away. The people remembered fondly that Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hid.”

Over time, other people moved into the area, and began building new buildings. Some were bigger and taller than the little church. Some were shinier and flashier. Some had bigger signs, and others had more contemporary flourishes.

But nothing was as beautiful as the little church. It sat on the hill proudly, proclaiming its good news.

As the taller buildings began to press in on the little church on the hill, the people who built the church began to worry. They worried that they couldn’t be seen anymore.  They fretted that their steeple wasn’t as tall as the newest cell tower or the nearest department store billboard. Fewer people came into their doors, even though the church was still beautiful.

One day, someone read that Jesus said that those who fed the hungry and gave shelter to the homeless were serving him. They wanted to serve Jesus, so they decided to invite hungry homeless people to their beautiful building. A line soon formed in front of their doors.

But there was a problem. The homeless people didn’t have shoes, and their feet were dirty — what would happen to the church floors? They didn’t smell very good either — wouldn’t that be an offense to the sacred space? They also didn’t speak or behave logically or rationally. In fact, they were more trouble than they were worth.

So the church closed its doors and said, “Never mind.”

The church members didn’t feel good about what happened; they sighed loudly with regret.

One day, someone read that Jesus once said, “Let the little children come to me.” Another person said, “Children are the future of the church, so let’s welcome them.” So the church invited all the children in their village to come. A line soon formed in front of their doors.

But there was a problem. The children were rowdy. They were loud when they got into the building and the sound ricocheted off the walls and down the stairways — how could anyone hear themselves think, much less pray? They were messy — who would clean up the paper off the floors? They also didn’t speak or behave logically or rationally. In fact, they were more trouble than they were worth.

So the church closed its doors and said, “Never mind.”

The church members didn’t feel good about what happened; they sighed loudly with regret.

One day, someone read that the Bible directs people to welcome strangers, aliens, and immigrants. Another person said, “We should invite immigrants to our church, especially families who have been separated at the border.” So the church invited all the immigrants in the village to come. A line soon formed outside their doors.

But there was a problem. The immigrants spoke a foreign language — who would translate them? Some of them were also illegally in the country — should the church support lawlessness? Some needed legal support. In fact, they were more trouble than they were worth.

So the church closed its doors and said, “Never mind.”

The church members didn’t feel good about what happened; they sighed loudly with regret.

One day, someone reminded them that there were a lot of young single adults moving into the village. Another person said, “Let’s invite them to our church. They’re professionals without children, so they’re likely to be easier to manage. They smell good and dress well. They speak English. They also have jobs in the big city so they can help us pay to keep our building beautiful.”

Everybody thought this was a fine idea, much better than the ones they’d had before. So the church invited all the young single adults in the village to come. A line soon formed outside their doors.

They threw open the doors and the young single adults came in and filled the building. They served fancy coffee with long names and gave everyone access to free Wifi. 

But there was a problem. One of the young single adults asked, “Where are the homeless?” Another asked, “Where are the children?” And another asked, “Where are the immigrants? This doesn’t seem like much of a church to me. Why does everybody here look and speak and smell exactly the same?” The rest of the young single adults nodded in agreement.

Slowly they filed out the door and returned to the village.

Questions to ponder: What does the future of the church on the hill look like? What does it do now? What will restore the church’s beauty and dignity?

New Paths

If you were unable to attend the All-Church Council meeting on Sunday, you missed an exciting and invigorating presentation by members of the Vision Task Force. (You can view the presentation for yourself here.)

I assembled a group of 14 members of the church, most of them new-ish to the church, and tasked them with the job of looking at the vision and mission of the church, and evaluating our strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward pushing us forward.

They have met six times since last December, and have given me lots of food for thought. They took seriously the church’s own mission statement, and decided to make it shorter, snappier, and action-able.

The old mission statement: “We are a community of hope, founded in faith, fostering spiritual growth, and meeting human needs by reflecting God's love in Christ's name.”

The new proposed mission statement: “As disciples of Christ at Kessler Park UMC, we Welcome, Connect, Grow and Help.”

You will notice that the new statement focuses on four simple words. The group came up with these words when we pondered the questions, “How does one move from being an occasional observer to an intentional disciple at KPUMC?” and “What are the signs or markers that one is progressing?”

The group determined that there are four markers of a disciple at KPUMC. First, one is welcomed unconditionally into the community, and extends unconditional welcome to others. This is a hallmark of the KPUMC ethos; our decision to be a Reconciling Congregation affirmed this desire.

Second, a disciple is connected to others, not simply through attendance at Sunday worship, but through small groups, Sunday School classes, and other opportunities for fellowship. Nobody can be a Lone Ranger disciple; the walk of faith demands fellow travelers.

Third, a disciple is always growing closer to God. This is done intentionally through participation in worship, Bible study, and spiritual practices, such as prayer, labyrinth-walking, fasting, and meditation.

And fourth, a disciple is ready to help others, by getting her hands dirty in the mess of ordinary life. This can happen through formal and informal missions, as well as advocacy work for social justice.

That’s how these four words — Welcome, Connect, Grow, and Help — became the heart of the proposed mission statement. They are a very simple and concise summary of the Christian life.
They also make a handy and useful “discipleship path” for the church. In other words, when someone asks us, “What does it mean to be a member of KPUMC and a follower of Christ?” we can answer with confidence, “It means you are welcome here, and you’re invited to connect with others, grow closer to God, and help those in need alongside us.”

It’s so simple, and yet so full of rich potential and hope!

The Vision Task Force would love to hear your comments, opinions, and suggestions about their work. Please look at the presentation here, and then forward your thoughts and questions to

The next step will be for the Church Council to hear conversation about, and take a vote on, the proposed new mission and vision statements, which will happen in the next Church Council meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, June 27, at 7 pm. All are invited to attend.

I’m energized by this, as I hope you are. More significant to me than the results and findings of this task force is the fact that 14 people, some of them strangers to each other at the outset, bared their hearts and joined their minds together in a common effort to make Kessler Park UMC stronger and more vibrant. This church has a strong future!

My sincere thanks to all who participated, including: Sally Climer, Josh Deluna, Ashley Flores, Bridgette Hardy, Avia Haynes, Mattie Jette, Kacy Jones, Charity Meeker, John Mitchener, Barry Nash, John Ogren, Robert Rodgers, Donald Shugart, and Chris Shultz.

Lessons From the World's Worst Missionary

Jonah 2.jpg

    As I pointed out in the sermon on Sunday, the figure of Jonah is a caricature. He is a terrible prophet and a petulant little man. I consider him the worst missionary ever!
    That’s why he is such a helpful character to ponder as we consider how to do mission right. Starting next Wednesday night at 6:30 pm, I’ll be leading a class on missions, and attempt to lay out a full theology, strategy, and spirituality for the church as we improve the way we help and serve others.
    But first let’s see what we can learn from Jonah about how not to do missions:

  1. Jonah went alone. Missions is never a solo venture; it’s not meant for Lone Rangers. The first and most glaring problem with Jonah’s travels to Nineveh is that he didn’t take anybody with him. Therefore, there was nobody to support and encourage him, nobody to hold him accountable, nobody to talk common sense to him. When we attempt to do missions all by ourselves, no matter how noble or worthy, we are doomed to fail.
  2. Jonah didn’t learn the language. Did you notice that Jonah makes absolutely no preparation for his mission trip? He didn’t attempt to learn the language, the local culture, or anything else at all about the context to which he was traveling. I have a picture in my mind of Jonah walking through the middle of the city proclaiming, “In forty days, you will be overthrown!” in Hebrew, as people looked on with amusement since they couldn’t understand a word he was saying. The fact that the people and the king ended up being converted by this very brief sermon in a foreign language is a satirical jab at Jonah’s disinterest in actually communicating to the Ninevehites.
  3. Jonah didn’t befriend any Ninevehites. Again, the whole point of the story is that Jonah hated Nineveh. He didn’t want them to experience God’s shalom. That is most obvious by his absolute disregard of the people themselves. He didn’t take any steps to get to know them, understand them, or create friendships.
  4. Jonah viewed himself as superior to the Ninevehites. Obviously, Jonah thought his religion and culture better than Nineveh’s, and he saw himself as going to impose his worldview on that city. This is a subtle and malicious error that Christian missionaries have perpetuated throughout the centuries. Many of the 19th-century, so-called missionaries to Africa, for example, were nothing but Western colonizers, setting the stage for economic exploitation. But we make the same mistake when we view ourselves as superior to those whom we serve.
  5. Jonah was in a hurry. Note that he didn’t care to stick around the city very long. He did the absolute bare minimum of God’s command; he stuck to the letter of the law. Then he left and climbed the mountain to watch the destruction. He wanted immediate results to his missionary activity, and so often, the same is true of our own efforts. The truth about missions is that the most enduring, long-lasting, and best work is done over a long period of time. Short-term mission work is usually just that — short-term, and can be very damaging.

    Imagine how the Book of Jonah would have read if Jonah were a model character, an exemplary prophet. It would have been pretty boring! No big fish, no bean plant, no pouting prophet.
    Instead, we would read of a man who assembled a team of men and women who cared deeply about Nineveh’s history and culture, learned their language, listened to the people in the city, sipped coffee with them in their cafes, received hospitality from them, and lived with them for a long time. Perhaps eventually this team would get around to making suggestions, offering a hand, or building something. But this would only happen after a long period of listening, reflection, prayer, and study.
    Like I said, it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting as the whale story. But it would make a lasting difference toward establishing God’s kingdom.