Sit Boy, Sit. Good Dogma.
In order to understand why we need to grow our churches organicly (whatever that may mean - don't worry, we will get to that), we need to understand a little about how we, The Church, arrived at our current location as well as what the location is.
There was a time, frequently referred to as “the good ol' days,” when the church was the center of society (as in the first quadrant of the illustration below). A large percentage of a community's life centered around the church. It was not only the moral compass and center for their lives, but it was their social and philanthropic center of their lives as well.
This afforded the church the ability to define for it's community what was acceptable and what was not. It was really unlikely that people would challenge the status quo that was being established (one, not surprisingly, heavily weighted down with dogma). Challenging the thing that defined your community and was the center piece of many people's daily lives and activities would have probably been a really good way to make sure you were not accepted by those who had power in the establishment and ultimately you would probably be pushed out to the margins of the circle of society, if included in it at all. So, the status quo that's being established goes unchallenged and ever-unchanging.
As you could probably guess, this kind of influence (and let's just be honest, power) was somewhat intoxicating. The Church, particularly it's leaders, began to believe the myth that they had established. The myth wasn't that they were at the center of community, because in many ways they really were. The myth that they had begun to believe was that they deserved to be there, that it was by some divine right that they have so much influence (and power).
That was the beginning of getting left behind. In the illustration below, the first quadrant represents where the church once was – in the center of society. The blue arrow represents time and change. Over time, society began changing. The church, in it's perceived place of godly instituted influence and power, did not change even though it has a history of changing and, at times, doing so dynamically. The further society moved down the time line, the more it changed and the more church did not. With each passing year The Church became less and less relevant for a quickly change society.
The bottom half of the illustration is where we arrived. Society has moved on and, much to the surprise of The Church, has done just fine without us. People, it turns out, were created in the image of a very responsive and ever dynamic God and were able to find other social centers, other ways to express their philanthropic needs and other ways to fulfill their spiritual desires. The Church didn't fare as well. We continue to insist that we can repeat the things we used to do (maybe with a few minor adjustments, but certainly not with any changes that are significant or truly challenging) and expect to reap different results. Not surprisingly, it doesn't work and The Church not only continues to die, but more importantly it continues to be less and less relevant for more and more people which takes away the opportunity of doing ministry with them.
We have a problem. Growing our churches organicly is at least one good solution. But before we go there, we need to understand how our current condition has effected our relationship with our community. We will look at that in the third installment in this four part-er on Growing Church Organicly.
Part 1: Hopey-ChangeyPart 3: Can The Walls Come a Tumbling Down?
Churches are dying at an alarming rate. Research by The Barna Group
suggests that 3500 to 4000 churches close every year. More than 2,765,000 people leave the church each year. And yet we, the Church, insist on doing the same thing over and over again and somehow expecting different results. When confronted with change we insist that “it has always been done that way,” as if history is an acceptable excuse for continuing down our path to demise.
In thinking about this, it is helpful to turn to Dr. Paul Batalden. In looking at the dis-function of our health-care system Dr. Batalden, a Dartmoth Medical School Professor, is fond of saying, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the the results it gets.” If your church is dying, it is perfectly designed to die. You can keep repeating the past over and over again and consistently get the results of dying. That's exactly what most churches are doing.
For years and years churches have joined in with movement after movement, each designed to help the church change. Most of them don't work – at least not in terms of change. They do tend to be very good at distracting from real, substantive change. They are very successful at taking away our guilt for having a church that can't attract new members, because we think "at least we are doing something."
The problem with why these programs fail more times than they work is also part of the problem with many churches themselves: our ability to accept cognitive dissonance. Talking the talk, but not walking the walk... and not really being bothered by it, more or less acknowledging it. The world outside the church, in large part, see us as hypocritical. And we've given them every reason to do so. Churches profess love of neighbor yet either explicitly condemn people of certain lifestyles or implicitly condemn them by our silence when others claiming to be Christians do. We profess that we are all made equal and that we are equal in the eyes of God yet we are astoundingly silent on issues of social justice. The list could go on and on, and I'm not saying that some churches aren't authentically living into these things (because some are). What I am saying is that the world outside the church just doesn't see it much. What they do see leads them to deem us all hypocritical.
That kind of existence allows us to work our way through programs on emerging\ transforming\re-imagining church without ever really doing much more than the head work. We have learned the skill of cognitive dissonance well. It keep us from having to do things that make us uncomfortable like spending time in low income housing areas, talking to the homeless, ministering with those in jail...you know all the things Jesus said we were doing to him when we do them. Cognitive dissonance means we get to be 'Christian' without actually being very Christ-like.
Naturally our churches get to do the same. We can read all about the “hopey, changey” stuff, talk about it it in positive tones, and ultimately back away from it when it leads us to do something as drastic as playing a guitar instead of an organ during worship... or worse yet, playing a guitar instead of an organ during worship and feeling like we have really stretched ourselves.
While we “study” the programs on changing, we get to feel like we are doing something. The problem is the companies who market them have to be able to... well, market them, so the programs always have some kind of a release valve built in that allows those who don't really want to commit to change to be able to do a little something different, feel better about having done something, without actually really addressing any of the systemic problems. It leaves the core system in tack and it continues to perfectly get the results it gets...but we feel better because, “Well, at least we tried.”
In the next three parts of this four part series, we will look at how we got here, the Church's response to dying, and what we might do about it. In book after book, authors have tried to take on this topic so the work I'll do here is admittedly cursory, but maybe it will be a place for you and/or your church to begin engaging in the conversation. If so keep one thing in mind, don't do it if you aren't willing to enter into it with a willingness to be committed to the vision and the change. This is more than a good idea; it is more than a possible way to keep your church from dying; it is an act of faith.Part 2: Sit Boy, Sit. Good Dogma.
Editor's note: Guest blogger The Christian Left (a consortium of Progressive Christian writers and thinkers whose web page recently went live) submits the following article on biblical examples for mixing church and state.
Both the Old and New Testaments stress the importance of government for protection and for maintaining order.
In the Bible, kings or other rulers were expected to rule with wisdom and justice. The Old Testament contains story after story of wicked, greedy and oppressive rulers who brought disaster on themselves and their people. Many of the Old Testament prophets, such as Elijah, Elisha and Daniel, delivered their messages of reform to Israel's kings.
Those of us who live under democracy elect our own "rulers." Our votes decide whether our government will be benevolent and just or harsh and oppressive. The Bible's advice and reproaches to the ancient rulers provide us wisdom to help us make wise choices in our own times.
A recurring theme in the Bible is that we should provide equal justice for all, not favoring the rich or powerful. Also, because all the peoples of the world are God's creation, we should not discriminate against foreigners: He who oppresses the poor reproaches his maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. (NAS, Proverbs 14:31) Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (TNIV, Exodus 23:6-9) Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, So as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth? (NAS, Isaiah 10:1-3)
The Bible often speaks of charity as an individual-to-individual act of generosity. The law of Moses and the Hebrews, though, provided an institutional way of providing for the poor that did not depend on the good will of any individual. Not only was individual generosity encouraged, but, as a matter of law, part of everyone's produce or income was to be set aside to aid the poor: "And you shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. (NAS, Exodus 23:10-11) "When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied. (NAS, Deuteronomy 26:12)
Let's also recall the celebrated story of Joseph, son of Jacob: Genesis 41:25-42 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, "The dreams of Pharaoh are one. God hath shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years: the dreams are one. And the seven thin and illfavored cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: what God is about to do He showeth unto Pharaoh. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine shall consume the land. And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following, for it shall be very grievous. And for that the dream was repeated unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. Now therefore let Pharaoh seek out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up a fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store for the land against the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land perish not through the famine." And the counsel was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said unto his servants, "Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "Inasmuch as God hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art. Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled. Only in the throne will I be greater than thou." And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt." And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.
In above story of Joseph, "The Government" set aside the bounties of 7 years of plenty to be "redistributed" during 7 years of famine. Enough said?
One doesn't have to dig very deep to learn the spoken sentiments of Jesus related to these matters: Matthew 25:31-46 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The ancient Hebrews lived in extended families or clans and could generally take care of their own. In modern industrial societies, though, families are often fragmented and many have nowhere to turn except to "The Government," which is really We The People. In Jeremiah 22, when the prophet delivers a scorching sermon about the treatment of workers, aliens and the poor, he specifically addresses both rulers (government) AND individuals. Jeremiah 22Judgment Against Evil Kings 1 This is what the LORD says: "Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 2 'Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on David's throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3 This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5 But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.' " 13 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. 14 He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.' So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. 15 "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. 16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD. 17 "But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion."
Everyone, both rich and poor, benefits when a government respects the rights of all and provides for the needy. Crime and drug abuse breed in areas of poverty and unemployment, where people may feel they have nothing to lose. Likewise, apathy and violence breed where people perceive injustice and feel excluded from the benefits of society. To the extent every individual feels empowered as a valuable, productive member of society, then society becomes healthier and more secure for everyone. Amos 5: 11-12 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Courts? That would be "Government." Sources:
Copyright © by Cliff Leitch
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2 Timothy 4:3-4
3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
We have wandered – drifted if you will. We, the Church, have drifted away from the sound doctrine of the One who came to show us that love has no bounds. There are plenty of pieces of doctrine that we could point to as proof that we have drifted. From our attempts to integrate church and state to the completely upside-down way it is actualized when we do - forcing our religion on others, favoring the powerful over the powerless, the haves over the have-nots, and ignoring the needs of the least of these in favor of a secure bottom line. Oh, we have wandered - we have drifted.
Worse yet, that part of us that was crafted by God, made in the image of God, into which God breathed the Divine breath giving us life...that part of us knows that we have drifted and even as those who preach this ungodly doctrine spew their distorted gospel on our ears, our ears itch - knowing that what they receive is not of God but of humanity. So, we seek out others who will repeat that message time and time again until the itch seems normal, until we buy into their myths that speak to our earthly desires of power, prestige and self-promotion. All the while, the part of us that seeks it's Creator itches, longing for a piece of respite from the earthly myths that propagate hatred, entitlement and advantage. We have begun to believe the myths.
We have begun to believing the myths of -isms. The -Ism Myths that say one race is more important than another, that one sex is inferior to another, that the wealthy should have more power and voice than the poor, that not everyone deserves to have to their basic health needs met, that the way God designs some people's sexuality is more acceptable than others, that forgiveness is a good thing to talk about but it is sometimes impractical in life, that being disabled makes a person less capable, that we are not to bare false witness against others unless of course it benefits us in some way....oh, we have drifted and we are lost in the seas of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, ableism, heterosexism...we are lost in a sea of -Ism Myths and we need to reorient ourselves toward sound doctrine for our itching ears.
All of those -ism are important parts to recognize. They can also be very complicated and complex issues to sort out. The issue in which I am most interested, the myth which I most care to refute, is the one that says our differences divide, that we are too different to get along, that in God's infinite wisdom God failed to see that making us so different would mean we could never come together. It is upon that myth that we, the Church, have ultimately been set adrift.
It has been said, and rightfully so, that the most segregated (the most separated) hour of the week is the hour of worship on Sunday. We have bought into the myth that our cultures are so different that it only make sense that we would worship separately. It is a myth because it is not our differences that divide us...it is our similarities. It is not the differences in our cultures that divide us when we come before God, but our similar inabilities to over come our intolerances.
We have lost sight of the love of neighbor and have been set adrift in our love of self. We have lost sight of the love of neighbor and been set adrift in our own personal needs and desires. We have lost sight of the love of neighbor and been set adrift in an intolerance rooted in selfishness.
It is of little surprise that our nation is so divided when our churches are so divided – by age, by race, by economics. It is not surprising that we cannot figure out how to come together in our daily lives when we cannot figure out how to come together in our spiritual lives.
I remember siting at the children's table at Thanksgiving and wanting to be at the adult's table. In the Kingdom of God there is no children's table, no black table, no white table, not one for the rich and one for the poor, one for the able and one for the disabled. In the Kingdom of God all sit at one table. Until we, the Church, a place that professes that our foundation is love, can overcome division due to intolerance, we have no right to act surprised or disheartened when our nation can do no better.
Love does not divide, it unites. Love of God and of neighbor is sound doctrine. The question is do we have ears to hear, or will we continue to allow our ears to itch?
I meet monthly with a group of ministers to discuss the current state of The Church and possible paths forward. We guide our discussions by working our way through books that do much the same thing. I suppose our hope is that the people who write these books will have much more experience in helping churches gain new life than any one of us individually might have and thus give us much needed guidance in doing the same for the churches where we serve (and a magic blueprint would be nice too).
The most recent book talks about churches “reinventing” themselves to appeal to younger generations. Now mind you, it is not advocating for or against “reinventing” church, it is merely making commentary about churches doing so. Well, I have to say, I had to read that part of the book over and over again to try to make sense of it. Something just wasn't setting well with me about “reinventing” church.
The book itself is about change and the part that mentions churches reinventing themselves is actually addressing the way change represents loss – loss of the past, loss of how things used to be done, loss of traditions. With that loss is, understandably, also the loss of things that helped define both personal and corporate identity. So, reinventing, changing, represents loss which threatens identity. I have no problem with that. Not only does it make sense, I've seen it happen time and time again in church when change is introduced.
It seems to me that the fact that we see change as “reinventing” is the problem. Our churches and our personal lives are supposed to be about journeying to\toward\and with God. When applied to churches within our modern context, talking about reinventing our churches, changing to appeal to younger generations, points to a previous lack of movement, a stagnation.
That's the problem. At some point we, The Church, stopped moving and we allowed our identity to get wrapped up in the pursuit of the things of this world rather than in the pursuit of God. Change must be who we are – people in motion, moving toward God, toward Creation, toward the children of God. As Christians, when change threatens our identity, it doesn't point to a problem with change, it points to a problem with our identity. God was constantly calling the people of God to go on journeys (think Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Jonah) and Jesus asked everyone he met to change in some way. In every case, constant change. To be Christian is to be a people of change, the old life is gone the new life has begun.
Despite our best efforts, we never manage to be the people God calls us to be, but we must always try – and that means changing from what we once were to something closer to what God is calling us to be, reinventing ourselves every day, every hour, every minute to be a better reflection of God.
It is a problem that we think of changing as reinventing ourselves. If we hope to survive going forward, rather than reinventing ourselves, we have to reclaim our heritage as people constantly on a journey, embracing change at every turn...and we have be willing to do it every day, every hour, every minute. Rather than threatening our identity, change must be our identity as we constantly reinvent ourselves closer to the reflection of God we were created to be.
In light of the hate crimes that continue to make news, crimes directed at homosexuals or anyone who others might believe to be gay or to be a lesbian, I have to make a statement about it's relationship with The Church.
But first, let me start with an apology. If any of you are uncomfortable about hearing about homosexuality and words like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ in discussion of the church, then I am sorry. I am sorry, that we ministers have done such a poor job of addressing the topic. We have been afraid to talk about the pink elephant in the room. Instead of talking about the way we Christians have committed sometimes subtle (and sometimes blatant) hate crimes against gays and lesbians, we talk in vague code about inclusiveness, open door policies and the Christian call to love the sinner. We have done a grave and unjust service to the life of the church and to our homosexual brothers and sisters.
We have let our fear control our faith, rather than letting our faith control our fear. We have let our fear override our God, rather than letting our God override our fear – the very God whose messengers tell us over and over again in the Bible, “Do not be afraid.”
An article by John Fisher, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, entitled, “The Separation of Church and Hate” talks about how the larger population has started to associate hate with the church. In part it is also about how we have put more trust in ourselves than in God. There is no better example of hatred in the church than in the way some churches have handled the issue of homosexuality.
The article reminds us, The Church, what Jesus had to say about hate: “Hate has no place being connected in any way to a follower of Christ. Jesus went as far as to equate hatred in the heart with murdering someone. And of course, John wrote that God is love, and it is impossible to claim to love God while hating anyone.”
When I was presented before the Presbytery as a Candidate for ordination, a group of people who are considering forming their own Presbytery because of their condemnation of homosexuality, stood up and asked me, and the others being presented that day, questions about, among other things, our sex lives. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife), my parents, many of the members of the church I would soon be serving as a Minister of Word and Sacrament were there that day. In front of everyone, including the other ministers who would soon be my colleagues, I was reduced to answering a question about my sex life. I have nothing to hide, but somehow it felt degrading and belittling. Their fear reduced a calling that I had been working toward for years down to a question about sex rather than questions about faith.
It happened at another Presbytery meeting. One minister, in order to save his wife the embarrassment of being asked about her sex life from a male stranger, stood up first and asked his own wife in front of hundreds of people if she had practiced fidelity in their 15 years of marriage – if he hadn’t asked they would have. Now you might think that would have driven the point home of how their fear (and possibly hatred) had pushed them to the point of absurdity, but it didn’t. A few minutes later a man stepped forward to ask the first Mexican woman ever presented for ordination in the Presbyterian Church in the US or in Mexico, with her children in the room, about - her sex life.
Some of these very people want to leave the church. The church leadership is trying to foster dialogue (using vague language that doesn’t actually address the core issue of homosexuality) in hope of convincing them to stay…I say…let them leave. I believe it might actually be the most loving thing we can do. In part, that is because I am for the separation of church…and hate.
Maybe this is a watershed moment in the life of the church. Maybe God is transplanting God’s church to the riverside. After years of barren discussions in the wilderness of disagreements over homosexuality, after years of the church digging its roots in deep to search out a common ground but coming up dry, after years of seeking relief from the internal struggle…maybe, just maybe, God is now doing a little gardening.
Transplanting each group in a place where it can be nourished. Transplanting each group in a place where it can get to doing God’s real work – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, visiting the imprisoned – instead of focusing so much on something that biblically matters so little.
I like to think I was pretty lucky as a kid, particularly when it came to sports. My Dad seemed to be able to play every sport pretty well. As a matter of fact, he coached almost every baseball team I ever played on. There is this one thing that I'll never forget that he said over and over to me and the rest of the team no matter whether on offense or defense, “Keep your eye on the ball.”
Now at first most of us kind of thought of that as a way of saying “stay focused,” and I guess in some ways it was, but the most important part of it was the directive to, “keep your eye on the ball.” Once I actually started watching the ball all the way until it hit the bat, went in the glove, whatever... my game play increased three-fold.
It is called baseball after all and it is amazing what kind of difference it made when I focused on...well, the baseball. It was what mattered. And when I focused on what matters, I was a better player.
The Church needs to learn a lesson from baseball. We took our collective eyes of the ball a long time ago, and we need to get back to letting what matters matter.
Over time, many churches have become places were what matters has become less about what God says matters and more about what people want to matter. In churches so many people busy themselves with the “work” of the church: Keeping the kitchen spotless, monitoring the clothes people wear, worrying about what someone is or isn't doing, being bothered by the music, or the pulpit, or who is in it...
But the reality is, when you do that, when you get caught up in the busyness (some might say the busy-body-ness) of the church, all you are really doing is loosing sight of what really matters. What's worse is you are distracting others from what matters, following Jesus wherever he leads us (yes, and frequently it's places we don't want to go).
If you believe most of the same things you believed about God 20 years ago, you have taken your eye off the ball. If you think God would not ask you to do something or go somewhere that makes you uncomfortable..you have taken your eye off the ball. If you go to Sunday school, and spend some of your time complaining about the church instead of actually studying God's word...you have taken your eye off the ball.
It is time to get to it - to get to letting what matters matter and to stop taking our eyes off the ball. It is time to stop tidying up the dugout and to step up to the plate. Those who take their eye off the ball and stop playing the game for what it can really be worth are likely to find their spirits growing thin, their anger growing more pronounced, their general sense of disgruntlement growing more restless.
When we take our eyes off of what matters, what really matters, we find ourselves growing away from the love, the hope, the peace that God offers us; we find that taking our eyes off of what matters allows space for thing that don't really matter to become important to us...and... we find ourselves unhappy more than we used to be, we find it harder to love our neighbor (particularly certain neighbors), we find that discontent and disappointment become more and more pronounced in our lives. When we get caught up in the things that don't matter, the thing that actually does matter gets displaced.
It is called Christianity after all and it is amazing what kind of difference it will make when we focus on...well, Christ. Christ is what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we will be better Christians and a better Church.
I've been thinking about this for a while. Can the typical church catch up to the frenzy of progression that is happening in technologically oriented fields? Better yet, does it want to? Or even better, does it need to?
In 1965, Gordon Moore, inventor of an integrated circuit and co-founder of Intel, observed that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit increases at an exponential rate, doubling every two years. This observation, over the past 40 or so years, has proven itself to be true and is known as Moore's Law (not to be confused with Moore's law, which basically says people may not want more information because it will probably mean they have to think more. While the two actually have a very interesting implications when put together, that's not what I'm interested in today).
Moore's law has immense implications for anything with technology (specifically integrated circuits) at it's core. For awhile people, even Moore himself, thought we were at an end to Moore's law, but recent work in silicon based transistors has extended the reality of the exponentially increasing rate of technology. What this mean is, we have moved from the first programmable computer (Charles Babbage, concept in 1812-1822) to the modern handheld computer in less than 200 years. And 200 years is nothing more than a blip on the 100,000 year history of modern humanity. So, imagine the progress we've made in that tiny little blip (from a general concept of computers to handheld, wireless web-surfing) and just try to extrapolate exponentially where we will be in the next 20 years - it's mind boggling.
Now, look at the past 200 year history of the church. The Great Schism was more than 900 years ago. Luther's 95 Thesis and the resulting split from the Catholic Church was almost 500 years ago. In the last 200 years...well, we do catch the tail end of the Second Great Awakening, but let's face it we've resisted any change or advancements for the most part. A quick glance at The Presbyterian Hymnal shows a remarkable number of songs from more than 200 years ago.
So, while the world (particularly the technological part of it) has raced ahead at light speed, the church has clung to the past, changing when it was forced to, but remaining relativelyconsistent over the past 200 years. Honoring our past, our history, is very important and is something for we should strive. Living in the past, however, is not something for which we should strive.
At heart here is the question of relevance. Many of today's young people sight the lack of the church's relevance in their lives as the reason the do not attend church. Did you catch that? Not, they don't believe in God. Not, they don't like the worship service. They don't find the church relevent for their modern lives.
So, is it that the church is no longer relevant in young people's lives or could it be that in holding on so tightly to the past, we are letting the future slip away from us? Could it be that in our resistance to move forward in the world, particularly when it comes to technology, that we are shunning the very thing that would help reconnect the church with the young, disenfranchised believers? I believe so.
Here's the thing though - at the blazing fast speed at which technology moves forward, a speed that is increasing daily and so far shows no signs of slowing, the more we (the church) hesitate, the more we reflect on the "rightness" of integrating technology into worship or into the way we communicate with the world, the further behind we fall and the larger the ground that we will have to make up. With each passing moment, we are effectively giving up the opportunity to communicate to young believers that what God has to offer them is more than relevant, that what God has to offer the world can change the world for the better, that the church while it is soundly in the world it is not of the world and for that reason can offer them a needed respite from the world without the need to completely disengage from the communities and relationships they have there.
Does the church need to catch up? Yes. Can the church catch up? Yes, but not if it waits much longer.