[Photoby fatboyke (Luc)]
Yesterday I posted a status update on Facebook, “Bruce is pretty sure he knows why some churches are slowly dying in body and spirit.” I got more inquiry from that update than ever before. Interesting.
So, wrote a post about it, want to hear it, here it go.
First, I am TOTALLY not jumping on the liberal or conservative version of the “The Presbyterian Church (USA) is hemorrhaging because we don’t love/know/follow Jesus enough” train. The reason for our denominational health is so far beyond a liberal/conservative issue for me. Despite what we would like to say about one another, I don’t believe that congregational health or sickness prefers one theological perspective over another. It is much larger than that.
But before I pose my arrogant diagnosis of an entire denomination, let me get in my preemptive defenses and disclaimers:
- I whine about a denomination that has formed me and that I have CHOSEN to be part of.
- I am engaged both personally and professionally in trying to be the change I seek.
- I do know that people connect with God in different ways, but sometimes, it is just bad stewardship of physical, financial and spiritual resources.
- I realize that there is not just ONE thing that is causing our churches to die a slow slow painful, wandering, subtle, sinister death . . . . but then that would be a really long boring blog post.
- Sorry if I am basically rehashing things that I have posted before, but you know how we pastor types really only have about 3-6 things to say.
But first a word of hope. I am actually pretty optimistic about the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and am more committed
than ever to working towards the transformation of our denomination through the transformation of our congregations. I really believe that, while we are certainly at a crossroads, mainline denominations have HUGE potential to impact the world in new and effective ways in the future.
There is hope. But . . . and isn’t there always a big ol’ but(t).
Our churches are dying in body and spirit because we have no institutional capacity to handle the complexities of being church in the shifting worldview from modern to postmodern.
Yes, this is nothing new to many of you. And yes, much of the world has been in postmodernity for a while now, but the church is still catching up and I believe we have a responsibility to walk with each other through our varied experiences of this shift. This plays out in so many ways as I will lay out below that sometimes it just seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Call it wide-eyed naiveté, hope in the power of God or an acknowledgment of the numerical shifts in professional clergy and church demographics, I believe there is a movement building and some hope building for that transformation to happen sooner rather than later.
Here are some sub-issues and problems in no particular order.
OBSTACLE // We promise relief from life’s craziness rather than offer ways to experience peace in the midst of chaos:
Modernity says that we can overcome the chaos of life, Postmodernity says that choas is life.
I don’t know how many times I hear, “Once _______ is over, it will be calm” or “If we could just _______ then everything will be better.” This idea that the chaos of life is to be conquered is such an American way of thinking. Just pull up the boot straps and push through, damn the consequences, and everything will be better. While perseverance is commendable at times, believing that the chaos of life in today’s time of globalization and technology is EVER going to go away or be conquered it downright irresponsible.
Christ can offer us the peace that we need. Don’t avoid the storm, be calm in the midst of it. Yes, technology and the rapid movement of life can create its own flavor of crazy, but we have always experienced those times of peace of mind, spirit and body even though the rest of the world is still just as crazy. THAT is at the heart of the gospel for me, the peace and wholeness that we are offering in Christ.
OBSTACLE // We worship the past rather than allow the past to ground our future:
Modernity says that there is one way, the old way, Postmodernity says that new ways must flow FROM the old ways.
Don’t get me started. For those who want to toss everything out because it is “traditional” as well as those who think God can only meet someone in one way – your way – you are both killing the church! The sooner we realize that folks will connect with God in a variety of ways, the sooner we can embrace the wonderful complexities of the Body of Christ. Just because one person may not connect with God in the same way another does, does NOT make them any less faithful to God. If we can’t appreciate the diverse ways that people meet God we will never REALLY respect the journeys that we each take and we essentially hold ourselves back from truly see Christ in the other. We need to truly embrace the varied ways in which God meets people. God can handle it.
OBSTACLE // We value the DOing of the institution over BEing in relationship:
Modernity says that community is in the methodology and ways we DO church; Postmodernity says that community is about BEing church.
We Presbyterians are gooooooood at this one. Our Book of Order is “clear” and we can use polity to create community. We can structure our way into being the body of Christ. Buzzzz. Thank you for playing. Now don’t get me wrong. I love our polity, the spirit in which it was and is written, the guidance it gives, the bounds it helps to set, etc. but it will NOT create community. The ways we DO church should only be lifted up in as much as the DOing helps to sustain the BEing.
At the same time, if a church community believes that it’s ministry is worth outliving the people who are there at a particular moment and time, some kind of structure and DOing church must take place in order to create sustainability. In the end though, every time we face a choice, we should be about BEing church.
OBSTACLE // We only know acceptance or rejection and can’t handle appreciation:
Modernity says that there is one and only one “Big Story” or metanarrative and truth; Postmodernity says there is not ONE metanarrative or truth; Christian Postmodernity says that under the metanarrative of Christ, there are many many truths about knowing Christ.
The old polemic that there is only ONE truth out there is poison to the health of our church at local and denominational levels. Moderns can’t seem to get their heads around the fact that there may indeed be room for multiple interpretations of the truth. Can we not center ourselves around a belief in Christ and then allow the rest of the “issues” to be part of our corporate discernment? I am not saying that if you disagree about homosexuality, abortion, or even the lordship of Christ (“a way” or “the way”) one has to worship in the same church community, but can we not still hold each other as valuable members of a community at a denominational level? Can we not model for the world living together with even the greatest of disagreement without resorting to spiritual and emotional violence? If not the church, then who?
Moving beyond these issues is NOT a pipe dream. In fact, many more of my strong relationships are built more along postmodern/modern affinities lines that in traditional liberal/conservative camps. I would bet that there are many of you who are able to be in Christian community despite old paradigms that our church would prefer we continued.
I tell ya, the tides are a turning. The big question for many of us who are committed to the health of our denomination and are seeing opportunities to step up is, “Will we help to push the current or simply let it rush over us?”
What do you say, let the revolution begin!