Thursday, February 11, 2010

Church in Palliative Care Rising Again?

Church decline doesn’t worry me. It used to. Not anymore. And it’s not because I have a “Jesus won’t let the church die. God is in control” type of attitude. God may be in control but that doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t send the church to its grave

Churches, like other organizations (or organisms!) have life-cycles. We’re born. We grow, reproduce, decline, then die. That’s the way life is built.

But of course, as Christians, we know that death is not the end of the story. With death comes resurrection. New LIfe. New Creation. Something new rises out of death.

I think the western church is in palliative care. We’re dying. And it’s not easy for anyone. Some are in denial. Some are raging against it. But it’s happening, and we don’t know what to do.

But I also think that God is creating something new. From the death to the old way of being church, God will raise a new way. The new church will be smaller than the old one. But it will be stronger. We won’t depend of the culture propping us up. People won’t feel socially obligated to belong to a church, but will crave a life together. Our influence will be relational, not institutional. We’ll be more like a family than a bureaucracy. More a clan than a corporation.

When I think of the struggles I have as a pastor, almost NONE of them have to do with theology or relationships (I say “almost none"). They have to do with organization. How we “run” the church.

And, I think, underneath those struggles is a realization that we’re fighting an uphill battle against decline. Our programs aren’t as effective as we want them to be. Our pool of volunteers (aka “ministers”) is diminishing. We’re being asked to fight off what seems an inevitable demise with fewer and fewer resources.

That’s why I think our job is to listen to the Spirit hovering over our chaos disguised as “good order.” I think the Spirit is dismantling our structures that inhibit discipleship and forcing us into re-thinking what it means to be the church in 21st century Canada.

It’s hard work. But it’s God’s work. Dying to comfortable patterns of church is painful. And so is rising to new ones. But the unchanging good new of Jesus is always looking for new vessels. The ever-new wine of the gospel cannot be poured into old churchy wineskins.

Of course, none of this is news. Its been said many times by better church thinkers than me. But it’s what I believe God is saying to me as a church leader, as one called to shepherd my tiny flock.

I don’t what all this looks like. But I do know that the future will be painful. But it will also lead to something new and exciting, people re-ignited with fiery passion for good news in a bad news world.

May our ears be opened to the still small voice who leads us with hope into the future.

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