“We live in a time of momentous historical change that is both exhilarating and frightening. Christianity itself is becoming something different from what it was.”
(Diane Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion)
My head is spinning. I have just finished a month of reading, preaching presentations and conversations. Many of these events had as the topic: the changing climate of the Church. An eye opening question from a pastoral counselor was: “If we are intent on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, why are we so caught up in the delivery system?” Part of the issue with the state of the Church today is that we think that the only way to spread the gospel is for folks to walk into our congregations and sit in our pews on Sunday morning. Traditionally this is how we have measured the success of our congregations; this is the way it has always been done.
The thing is, there is no "the way things have always been done," only "the way we've done them in recent memory" -- which of course really means "the way I've gotten used to them being done."
(David Lose, “Pentecost Change” Working Preacher)
Vicar Brian’s sermon on June 10th was a passionate reminder of this very statement. He called out the reality of the Church, the worry and the wringing of hands. He said out loud what many of you may be feeling and thinking. The text he used from 1 Corinthians was about “not losing heart.” Not only did he talk about the fear of low attendance and changes in the church but he also lifted up what God is doing here: through our youth, our continued giving, and the gifts many members of the congregation offer in service to God. These excellent traditions are enough to give us heart.
Still, as pastor, I struggle with how to honor the traditions of this congregation in a pluralistic, increasingly less Christian society and still move forward. I wonder if the way we have always done things (expecting folks to sit in the pew) is the way things should be done now, especially when I continue to read:
“When do we stop…stop trying to do things that clearly aren’t working just because we’ve always done it this way? When do we stop and let programs die even though it hurts our pride, . . . to do so? When do we stop giving our time to failed or failing efforts so that we can devote our time, energy, and creativity to developing new ministries, new relationships, new projects that prove more effective and, in this sense, more faithful?”
(David Lose, “In the Meantime” Feb. 29)
In prayer, with the urging of the Spirit, I will in the next year devote my time and energy to: creatively attempt to change what is not working, lifting up new ministries, trying to establish new relationships and measure success in not how many “folks are in the pews,” but how many lives are being affected by the ministry done by our members. In this vein, you will see a change in the way Confirmation is done, a change in adult education, a new connection with the interfaith community in Summit and new possibilities in young adult/emerging ministries. I have lots of ideas, but they are only my ideas; I would like you to weigh in, not with negative criticism, because that is rarely helpful. Please, weigh in with constructive ways that you might see to spread the good news of Jesus the Christ, or any new innovative ideas that you have that may help us more fully be the people of God in this place.
St. John’s has always been in the vanguard of positive change. I would like to enhance this tradition. I know that we can, because I am confident that God is still at work in the world, and our little corner of it. I am convinced that God is still in control and that the Holy Spirit still has the power to enliven and make us able to reimagine church.
I have decided not to live in fear of “oh, my, what is happening to the church” but to proactively seek new ways of being the community of faith called St. John’s Lutheran Church located in Summit, New Jersey. I am excited and exhilarated about new possibilities for ministry. I hope you will get in on the excitement!
Wishing you abundant grace.