We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What to Do & Not Do

Adirondack Sunrise
Source: Travercial
In a piece entitled, "COMMENTARY: Sunday mornings are broken," commentator Tom Ehrich, argues that the path to local church renewal and growth does not lie through Sunday morning. He observes, "Sunday worship isn’t growing churches any longer. Sunday morning has become a time for sleeping in, kids’ sports and shopping. Young prospects want engagement, not pew-sitting. Churches grow when they have active small group ministries, high-commitment mission work, lively online offerings, and activities beyond Sunday mornings."  He goes on to note that in mainline churches both members of the congregation and pastors remain committed to worship as the centerpiece of congregational life and resist the idea of devoting less time and energy to it.   Such resistance, Ehrich feels, is misguided.  Instead, he offers five alternative areas to which churches and pastors should devote their energies, which are worth quoting in full.  He writes,
First, don’t expect to find a single answer that’s applicable everywhere. Be an entrepreneur, in the way Jesus was an entrepreneur, namely, adapting to the context; having a fervent vision but flexible methods; focusing on outcomes (transformed lives), not consistency of practice; working outside institutions; being a disruptive force.
Second, use today’s tools (especially technology) to reach today’s people, who are largely diverse, scattered, isolated and not joiners.
Third, proclaim fresh messages that don’t reinforce negative perceptions of religion as judgmental, harsh, condescending, overly concerned with institution.
Fourth, break Mammon’s hold on Christianity by reconsidering facilities, staff and other overhead, and by teaching personal stewardship, not institutional fund-raising.
Finally, stand where Jesus stood: on the margins, in solidarity with people, speaking truth to power, risking everything to declare hope and healing.
To this list should also be added the development of small groups as a key to congregational life in the future.  Ehrich twice mentions small groups as being important, and it is not clear why he overlooked it in his five point agenda for the future.  I've taken the liberty of including it as a sixth point to be considered.

This to do list is worth lingering over, and I plan to do just that in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, but before jumping in there are a couple of things that can be said about the total package.  One is positive and the other not so much.  On the positive side, Ehrich offers a vision of what churches can be and the shape of what pastoral ministry is likely going to have to be moving forward.  We have to learn to be contextual, use modern technologies, provide a fresh message, divest ourselves of property, and address the powers that be more boldly concerning local issues.  It is not a given that churches and pastors who do these things, however, will necessarily be successful by whatever scale success is measured by.  And that leads me to my negative observation.

Ehrich's agenda requires a set of skills, attitudes, and level of creativity that are not going to be found in every church or exhibited by every pastor.  Indeed, they are daunting.  They require a radical reorienting of the values of local churches and fly in the face of what most churches expect of their pastors.  In most mainline churches, a pastor who presented this agenda to the congregation's governing board would likely meet with resistance more than support and encouragement.  The people who actually pay the pastor's salary are largely content with things the way they are and will esp. resist any suggestion that they divest themselves of their church's property.

That being said, Ehrich's to do list is worth lingering over.  If most churches and pastors will never take it seriously, it may still map for us the future of the mainline remnant that finds its way into the heart of the 21st century.  Stay tuned.