If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. John 13:17
Having spent 20 years working with North American congregations, Thomas S. Ranier has come to some conclusions -- conclusions about what "happy" churches have in common.
Happy? Where did "happy" come from?
Thinking back, I was pretty positive none of my church constitutions had happy as a priority, and none of my call documents asked me to be a happy pastor, who would try to establish a happy congregation. Even more, after a quick search in my Bible's concordance, I was assured nowhere had the Lord commanded, "Thy church shalt be a happy place."
Even so, I imagine most people would rather attend a church filled with happy worshippers than one which features pews packed with sour-pussed parishioners.
Now, if you're interested, I can share just a few of the nine features which Mr. Ranier says are shared by most happy congregations. For example, he says a happy church is one which has a pastor who is authoritative but not dictatorial. Another rule says, "The pastor shows love for the congregation ... no matter how they feel about him." Happy congregations, according to Mr. Ranier, have a staff that likes each other and works well together. They also have a high percentage of the congregation actively involved in ministry.
One of Mr. Ranier's rules I liked was, "Happy churches have business meetings, which are brief and friendly." Another rule worthy of note was, "In most happy congregations many of the people were involved in small group Bible studies or Sunday school." Mr. Ranier came to other conclusions, but space doesn't allow me to share the rest.
As a Lutheran pastor, I was surprised to see none of the items on Mr. Ranier's list spoke of Word and Sacrament. None touched upon proper preaching of Law and Gospel, and nowhere did he reference the Savior who said, "If ye know these things, ye are happy if ye do them."
Do you remember when Jesus said that? It was after He had washed the disciples' feet, after He had said, "If I do this for you, you ought to do the same for others." It was after Jesus said we should make sacrifices for the greater good of God's people.
That was, after all, what Jesus did. His leaving heaven and being born in Bethlehem was a sacrifice. His rejection by fickle hearts and souls was a sacrifice. His years of ministry where He was misunderstood, maligned and hated was a sacrifice. His betrayal, His unfair trial, His carrying our sins, His unjust crucifixion were all sacrifices made, so we might be saved.
Sacrifice -- that is what Jesus did for us, and it is what He encourages us to do for others, if we are to be happy.
Honestly, I like Jesus' list better than I do that of Mr. Ranier.
Maybe I should say, the Savior's sacrifice for my salvation has made me forgiven, saved, peaceful and, yes, it has made me happy.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, sin and Satan try to ruin the fellowship of the faithful. Today I pray You will do what is necessary to defeat them so peace, contentment, joy and happiness may be found in the hearts of Your people. In Jesus' Name I ask it. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries