02 May 2006

How do we get out of this mess? (A post on problems in the mainline church!)

I am worried about my denomination.
Ok, yeah -- I know that where we end up will be in the hands of God.
But I'm worried about my denomination.
We in the mainline church have kind of screwed things up. Well, not "kind of." We've really screwed things up!Our churches are facing aging populations, struggling or irrelevant ministries, and, needless to say, declining budgets.
And none of us know what to do about it.
We pray. At least, I do. I pray that God will revive us. I pray God will reform us. I pray God will renew us. I pray God will just help us!!
And I think about our decline a lot. Probably a lot of my posts will be on this subject, so any readers should just get ready.
Here's the thing -- I think somewhere along the line, we committed a pretty big sin when we turned church into a country club that even Jesus couldn't join.
I hate to say this, because the genesis was before my time and I hate to point fingers and throw stones when I know that I am failing at being a witness to Christ in a gazillion different ways.
But for just a second, can I put that aside and say, "What the heck were we thinking?" And how can we atone for something that most of us are unwilling to admit and many are willing to sacrifice the call to make Christ known to all the earth to perpetuate?
I grew up in a church full of good people -- honest people. And I was beloved there. And I LOVED the feeling of being loved. And that sustained me through most of my growing up and even into college. That human relationship was a really good starting point.But it wasn't enough to sustain me through seminary and into my first pastorate where I finally realized, thanks be to God, that the only relationship that is going to give me love enough to get through days when people think you've failed them (and you have!) is a relationship with Jesus Christ!
And frankly, I'm kind of ticked off that no one in my church or my college or even my seminary had the guts to question me and challenge me as to where my joy for the church lay because my denomination is so darn grateful to have anybody under 30, or heck, 60, in a room, let alone preparing for ministry, that they will let pretty much anybody in, even somebody as clearly starved for Jesus as I was!
What happened to us? Our denomination was at the forefront of changing the world less than 100 years ago. We had people turning over their lives to Christ right and left and leaving behind all forms of certainty to follow what God wanted them to do. We had children who knew the Word of God not just that their favorite felt-board character was Miriam. We had teenagers who went to college training for the ministry, college students who were heading overseas in missionary work, parents mentoring children in the way of God, older adults working alongside younger adults. And this was not a fascist group. Men and women, young and old, all were finding a calling in bringing about the kingdom of God.
I might be accuses of yearning for a past that will not come again, but friends, I think we must figure out a way to return to that sense of calling. We absolutely cannot sit back and let the few children in our churches absorb the sense of relationship with Jesus by accident! In my opinion, our children need a foundation in the Bible that will provide for them throughout of their lives. They need to memorize Psalm 23 and the 10 Commandments. They need to know scriptures by heart so that as teenagers and adults the words that are in their hearts are the words of LIFE!! Our teenagers need to see young adults working in the church and being honored and cherished for their willingness to follow God. They need to see that when they graduate from college, they will have a place in our churches where they can put into action their faith without us providing a gazillion hurdles over which they have to jump to be involved! And our young adults need the same respect! They also need adults who are ending the process of raising families and have tried to work out how to be faithful stewards of their resources who will be mentors to the younger adults. And we need mature adults who are willing to work hard for the church so that those who are younger don't have to sacrifice their families to sustain a Sunday School program! And we need older adults who are willing to be the voice of wisdom, yet are also willing to trust those who are younger to use their gifts for ministry, all the while knowing that they are not being pushed aside because of their age, but instead honored and respected.
It's not like I'm just pulling these ideas out of the air. Check out Proverbs 22:6, Titus 2, Leviticus 19:32. 2 Timothy 3: 14-15. I could go on... (And, yes, I know that as mainliners our skin crawls when somebody takes scripture "out of context." Well, for right now, so what? Set within the larger context of the biblical mandate to raise up generations of faithful people and the failure of our churches to do so, the context does not work in our favor!)
And thus is my lament. But without a willingness to confront these shortcomings, I'm just whining. I want to be clear -- I love my denomination and really truly believe that it has a GREAT things to offer. (I'll post more about those sometime soon). But I believe its people need an intervention so that we can let the good things inherent in its history and mission come forth.
So here's what I'm going to do, and I'm going to invite those of you are also concerned about these things to join me in figuring out what God wants you to do about this.
My plan.
  1. Pray. I'm going to pray for God's church, for my church and that they might be one and the same. I'm going to pray that God will help us to find a way towards faithfulness.
  2. Seek. I need to start really reading the scriptures and looking for God's Word to speak to me and my congregation.
  3. Trust. I need to trust that God will lead us and speak to us. I think this goes hand-in-hand with #1 and #2.
  4. Listen. Open ears make it easier to hear God's plan for me and our church.
  5. Act. I need to put into action what God has told me. I think that God has been asking me to help teach our Sunday School for a long time. I keep thinking that maybe He'd want to rethink that, but so far we've no such luck.
  6. Encourage. I'm going to ask others in my church to pray and trust and act on what God has been asking them to do. I'm going to encourage their efforts, even if they are being led in directions I haven't considered.
  7. Respect. I'm going to listen to God, but also to those who are also praying for His direction. If they believe that we are being led differently than I, I'm going to respect their opinions and try to work out any differences with prayer and discernment.

I pray that this is a good start. I hope that those of you with similar concerns will interact with me, especially by agreeing to pray for our churches.

May God go with us!


Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes!! I also am a member of a suffering church. I will not leave because I believe God has called me to be there and help bring life back to it. I join you in your prayers, sister! Jenny

Anonymous said...

Ape - so true. Thank you for articulating these things. You are wise and getting wisdom daily in such wonderful ways! The Bible is NOT scary...it IS sustenance. Seek so that when you find, you can teach me.
I love you - roo.