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September 29, 2004

The Once and Future Church

Loren Mead presents a very compelling argument on the current crisis of identity that our churches are facing. There are some fundamental changes going on within our cultures that are having tremendous impacts upon our congregations. The Holston Annual Conference is not immune to these changes or challenges. Therefore, it is important that if our ministry is to be effective that we see clearly what is going on in the world of the people we are attempting to bring into the kingdom of God.

The needs have not changed but the means by which we attract people to the church must change. People still need a place where they are known. They still need to know that they have value and worth. They still need to be nurtured and cared for. They still need a sense of security and a belief in a meaningful worthwhile cause. The needs have not changed but the means we use to address those needs are in many ways no longer relevant to the unchurched crowd. Dropped in the midst of this is something that appears to be a contradiction. Yes, while many are forecasting the demise of the mainline church there is a spiritual hunger out there unlike anything we have experienced in many a century. But, we need to be careful that we do not mistake spiritual hunger for a hunger for our church as it is presently. This brings me to the most important theological challenge facing the church today. The challenge is to move in attractive ways without losing our core theological values. In other words, Mead would call this identity, "...that rich mix of memory and meaning that grounds the congregation, defining who we are at our very heart." This is a challenge we must meet because I sense that the unchurched wants us to think critically about who we are as a church. We on the other hand appear to be missing this and talk about symptoms rather than the real issues. So we program our ministries to deal with the pain of the headache and not the cause of the headache.

This is both a practical and theological struggle because the two go hand and glove. We do programming based on how we perceive ourselves. It is this fight over identity that will and does occupy most of our congregational and pastoral energy. And because we fail to see it as a core value issue some of us dismiss it, ignore it, misinterpret it or even worse refuse to discuss it.

If we take this seriously and seek to be faithful to God's call to "go and make disciples," this would mean a change in our process, that is how we make decisions. Decisions would no longer be made based upon what we see as a valuable enterprise or program for us but what should we do that others may see the Christ as relevant, meaningful and for me. This has already impacted upon the building we build. Many of our churches have had to struggle with traditional architectural style verses a more open and inviting worship center. It is rather interesting to read Mead discuss the local church’s NEW involvement in the political and community life. Especially, when I am aware that this has been expected of the African/American pastor and congregations as far back as Reconstruction. The shift for us is occurring in the area of a strong push for family support and more sophistication in children and youth ministries. There appears to be within our congregations a social consciousness coupled with an awareness that the church and its pastors must be responsive to the personal needs of building stronger marriages, better parenting skills, preparation for jobs, emphasis on higher education, recreational needs, and more diversity in worship style.

Think about it and share your thoughts with me.

Posted by Bishop at 07:01 PM | Comments (2)

September 13, 2004

Working The Angles

Eugene Peterson in his book "Working the Angles" poses this very probing question and I paraphrase. "In your ministry has anyone ever asked you if you prayed or asked you if you read the Bible for more than just sermon material?" Another probing inquiry, "Do you realize that people come to you primarily for spiritual guidance?"

These are questions that those of us in the pastoral ministry are seldom if ever asked but questions we must must answer. It hits at the heart of our personal relationship with Christ and is not a question of performance but of preparation to live as Christians.

Think about it. Let me hear your thoughts on this.

James Swanson

Posted by Bishop at 05:44 PM | Comments (8)