Monday, October 15, 2012

Choosing to die?

Listen up churches,

You have the option, and it's not one I'm going to choose on your behalf. You may choose to die. But if that is the option you have chosen, don't pretend, be honest about it. There's no shame in answering the call to death so that new life may spring up.

But don't pretend that you're interested in growth if you're not willing to change.

Growth is a kind of change.

When churches change, one of the complaints that ministers often here is that "This doesn't feel like my church anymore." Here's my response:

Was it ever yours to begin with? Or is does the church belong to Jesus Christ?

A church with whom I used to be associated has recently realized that their old members keep getting older, and new members are not replacing them. The result has been that they are trying to grow those young families, they say they want them, and are implementing programs to gather them in.

But they're not willing to actually change anything. It's like they're looking for young families who are already the same as they already are.

Well if you're not attracting new members, perhaps that oppressive sameness is the reason? Each generation has its own needs, its own issues, and for a church to fail to deal with them ignores their existence and doesn't feed the hunger that each group has. You may as well have worship in a different language!

If you are choosing not to change how you do things, you are choosing to die as an institution. Which is absolutely ok. If God is calling you as a church to minister to congregation as it declines and dies, we believe in the resurrection, and if God so wills it, a new church will rise up.

But don't pretend you want new people if you're not willing to change to accommodate them. The holy spirit is active in every time and place, and "that's the way we've always done it" is not a good enough reason.


  1. Right, the Spirit may remain the same but the ways in which the church manifests that Spirit will look very different as times change.

    1. I totally agree. I also believe that today's problems come from yesterday's solutions, so as our concerns and issues change, the church has to be willing to share the gospel in ways that engage with those new and emergent contexts.

      Basically, as my preacher said on Sunday, when God orders our steps, it's always a to-go order.

  2. The critical question is... how do we continue to minister to the "older members" who really do find meaning in the way that church happens in their own place while at the same time creating a space for change? Although I DO agree with the premise of the blog, I also realize that for many people it is not just an unwillingness to change, but a recognition that the time held traditions of what church means to them remains to be, well, meaningful.

    1. That's an excellent point Cassidy. I don't think we should just abandon the old ways, I grew up on liturgy and pipe organs, I just don't think we should exclude new ways of being faithful just because they're different. At that point, traditions are no longer a guide, they're an idol.

      The image I find most helpful to describe worship styles is language. Just as we can say faithful things in English, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Pig-Latin or Klingon, we can say faithful things with a pipe organ and with a guitar. We can say faithful things with a bulletin and a projector screen. However, we are not all native speakers of the same worship language. If we want to talk to the people who are not exactly like us, we need to become multilingual in the various language of worship.

      Lest ye be tempted to do things the way we've always done them, remember that at some point, the New Testament was also new.

  3. Joseph I love the title here. That is exactly what is happening people are choosing to die within thier own church. I think that this was a great post because it not only echoes the sound of the modern elements of traditional christianity but the failure to revisit the faith from new perspectives not only kills the individual but the church! Great work!

    1. Thanks Tamira! I think that the addition of new ways and ideas should always be a synthesis, never a replacement. The church needs to be open to change while maintaining respect for traditional forms and practices, because the Holy Spirit, in addition to acting in new ways, has also acted in the old ways.

      Basically, our Worship is about God, not about us. So if God is acting in new ways, we should recognize them, even when they make us uncomfortable.