Friday, March 12, 2010

An Exciting Time!? Really?

“This is an exciting time to be the church!” Every church leader has said that as a way of spinning bad news. I should know. I'm guilty of saying that myself when talking to anxious churchfolks. It's not that I don't believe it to be true. I think it's only half the story.

But it's not just an exciting time to be the church. It's a terrifying time. Especially when ministry gets harder and harder every year. 

There's nothing exciting about having more ideas than resources. Nor is working harder for fewer results. Neither is worrying about the church's future. That's not my idea of a good time.

Some days, I feel like Sisyphus pushing that stupid boulder up that damned hill.

But it's clear to me that God is doing something with the church, but it's hard to say what that is. Declining numbers, diminishing resources, and waning cultural influence. Not to mention intra-ecclesial squabbles over sexuality and tensions between clergy. We're in the middle of something, and it's difficult to see where we're going to end up. It's hard to determine exactly what God is doing with us as a church.

Maybe God is wiping the smug smirk off of our Christendom faces. Forcing a collective time-out. Calling a four minute major for conduct unbecoming.

It could be that God is telling us that the 1500 year love affair with Caesar made us larger numerically, but smaller spiritually. We'd gotten complacent. Lazy, even. Expecting the culture to do the job of making Christians for us. Instead of churches teaching people to pray, we expected schools to do that for us. Instead of voicing our own particular moral and ethical stands, we wanted the media to adopt our worldview.

And in return, the culture wanted our blessing for any and every endeavour it launched. And we church folks willing obliged. We love it when we're flattered by worldly power.

And, perhaps, God wants us to do our jobs as churches. God wants us to remember that it's the Spirit of Jesus crucified and risen that gives us power. That God's reign of mercy, forgiveness, love, justice, and peace often means we will be unpopular. And that's okay. God never promised being a Christian would be easy. In fact, the opposite is true. Maybe God wants us to reclaim the core of what it means to be Christian.

So, it could be that church decline is a gift. Just like my weight-loss scheme, God is shedding the extra pounds, cutting the fat, making us leaner and healthier. Instead of trying to create bloated church corporations, God is making us focus on the essentials, re-prioritizing our mission, creating smaller, but stronger churches.

Clergy shortages could mean a more empowered laity. Diminishing resources could mean that we're forced to think about the best ministries to invest our money. Declining membership could mean that the spiritual tourism shop is being closed, and that those who are still in our churches after the purge are those most committed to Jesus and his mission. Intra-church fights put theology back on the front burner. We're being compelled to articulate our respective theological positions. Our bibles, are once again, open.

Sound exciting to you? It does to me. Sort of. Because it also means a lot of work. But it is God's work.

NB: Updated for spelling, grammar, and style.

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