Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Changing Church

I wrote this piece last year and reading it again recently I thought I would post it again having read numerous accounts of our churches that are experiencing the difficulties of "changing" in a changing world.

In case you haven't noticed "church" has changed. When I was a little girl Sundays were an all day affair in my family. Beginning at our arrival for worship at 8:30, we were usually one of the last families to leave, only to return again that evening. In the between hours my parents took a nap and I counted the minutes until we reconvened with our church family.

My daughter being a "preacher's kid" has, of course, very different memories but they don't consist of Bible "Sword" drills, memorizing quantities of Bible verses, long sermons, altar calls, lengthy baptisms. She would probably tell you that her memories include waiting. . .waiting for her father to lock up the church, waiting for her mother to put away the music, waiting while we both cleaned up the pews, waiting outside a hospital room. Her world, her generation is very different than my own and yet I have discovered that some where along the line my world has radically changed as well and, as far as "church" goes, well, as the world has changed so has "church."

Being in the "ministry" business means somehow connecting these two tilting worlds. Stopping by a friend's office recently he described the transition in the "church" as watching a death and a birth at the same time. Now, in certain regions of the country I realize that there remain vestiges of what I experienced and remember "church" to be. But, personally, I haven't been involved in that type of community in a long, long time.

Instead, in the congregations we have ministered with we are constantly facing the conflict between someone's memories of "what it used to be like" and the reality of what the world is today. As the world changes ever more rapidly, so the Christian's response has to alter. How we did "church" thirty, forty, fifty years ago, even ten years ago isn't how "church" can be done today.

It's difficult to accept any change. I know one man who seems to be angry that he has gotten older and so is determined to keep "my church" exactly the way he remembers. I haven't once heard him refer to "my church" as God's church or a church that needs to reach out beyond its wall to the surrounding community. Every complaint, every negative comment, every demand is couched in the language of "my church." His grown children abandoned church long ago because "my church" isn't relevant to them.

How do we keep moving forward? Jesus was undetered by the Pharisees. Particularly in the gospel of Mark we see him moving, going to the next town, next mountain, next desert, preaching the Good News gospel wherever he went. He refused to be bound by "my church" rules even though the Pharisees made copious attempts to tether him.

I often wonder what Jesus would do if he walked into any of our churches today. Would he see that his death on the cross made a difference in how we did "church" or would the conflicts over the order of worship, worship tapestries hanging in the sanctuary, hymns versus praise songs, how communion is served, budgets, women's "ministries", etc. make him want to get out the Temple's whip and drive us all out. Or, if these conflicts aren't enough how about if he stood and listened to our words or read our e-mails about how "my church" isn't the way "I" want it to be.

This may be all more than you are experiencing. But, the truth is, ask someone under the age of thirty if they are going to church. More than likely you'll receive a blank stare and then the question, "Why should I?" If they are, great, and be sure to find out what is happening in their congregation because they are a rarity. The statistics are that 70% of college students walk away from their faith and few of them are returning.

Everything is looking different and "my church" doesn't belong in this day and age. I'm sorry. We ARE the Church not because we sit in a building but because we are called to be outside of the building being Christ's hands, feet, mouth--touching, walking, talking to everyone we meet about the love of Jesus Christ. We have to go find the world. We can't afford to sit around in "my church" waiting for the world to find us.

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