Friday, September 03, 2010

What's the Problem With the Church?

1. We’re fighting an uphill battle against decline. Being the church today is hard. This is the problem that amplifies all the other problems. Since we’re not being propped by the culture like we used to be (thank God!) we actually have to get our hands dirty and push that rock up that hill. Ministry takes work and creativity. And a lot of us are tired. Worn out by working harder for less results. 

2. We’re using outdated tools. Our churches often mirror the bureaucracy of non-profit organizations or the least efficient of government agencies. I think we need to pair down our governance model into a simple and nimble series of networks rather than a top down  pseudo-hierarchy. At the local level, our church council oversees the bulk of the ministry. But we also have ministries that function and thrive with very little oversight: Stephen Ministry, ChristCare, and Creative Fingers (quilters) leap to mind.

Another example is Christian Education: is our present classroom format the best way to teach the faith? Is learning doctrine the most effective means of building disciples of Jesus? I dunno. I’m just asking.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if our current institutional model, born and baptized in Christendom is the best way to meet our current -post-Christendom ministry objectives. Especially when we’re experiencing so much decline, when resources are dwindling, when fewer people are doing the bulk of the work. If we truly believe that God’s kingdom is an alternate reality running loose in the world, doesn’t how we organize ourselves need to reflect that reality?

3. We blame our synodical and national leaders for our local failures. I have a great deal of admiration and affection for Bishops Ron and Susan. They are both gifts to the church and have a great deal of faithfulness to their positions. But I also know that they can’t do my job for me. As the pastor, I’m accountable to Christ and the congregation. Too often I hear some colleagues blame our leaders for the decline we’re experiencing, when our leaders have little to no involvement in the day-to-day work of the church. If we’re being ineffective in ministry we have to look at what WE can do to make our ministry more effective. The best ministry happens at the local level, where normal, everyday, Christians live out their faith.

4. We spend too much time worrying about what other churches are doing. In other words, we spend too much energy on church politics. Non-church people (or most church folks) don’t care about who is fighting with whom, or what a church across town or on the other side of the country is doing. They care about their local church and how they can minister to others. It’s the church leaders who get their people all riled up and involved with wider church issues that will never touch the grassroots.

5. We look to the past rather than to the future for our inspiration and hope. As Christians, we believe in the resurrection of the dead - God’s New Creation - springing forth in the world. We are a people who live our lives with the end in mind; the end, not as a pie-in-the-sky disembodied heavenly existence, but an end where God will make all things new. 

This is not to say that we don’t remember with thanks what God has done in the past, and draw inspiration from the saints who have passed on the faith. But we are a resurrection people, a people whose eyes are fixed on God’s horizon, where justice, mercy, peace, compassion, healing, and forgiveness blossom over everything God has created. And we live our lives as people of that kingdom.
Tomorrow: What’s RIGHT with the church.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely insightful and 'right on'.

Anonymous said...

The ELVA is pondering these very questions we would love to hear you ideas for soultions Please check out this site and add your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts Kevin. We started a small group of six churches here that meet monthly with clergy AND lay leaders (with the lay leaders taking on most of the leadership). Its been such a life giving experience to see that it doesn't take much to accomplish a lot.

Re: Leaders. I agree that they shouldn't be to blame for our decline. But I will say that the plans being proposed for the ELCIC (a cumbersome national office in Ottawa) scare me to the core.

Anonymous said...

Scare me to the CORE is a bad choice of words... I should say scare me to the bone.