When I arrived at my current church appointment as pastor, I "inherited" a wonderful staff. Our Operations Director was a certified management and pastoral coach, not to mention a certified spiritual director. In the process of coaching and listening to people, she is fond of asking, "And how's that working for you?" In other words, is the result of what you are doing what you want?
The honest answer, for many . . . is NO.
I approach my 60th birthday in a few months, and I find myself asking questions in various ways, and in various situations:
-Is the way I lead a church working?
-Is how I preach working?
-Is the vision/mission/purpose I've cast working?
-Is my current personal devotional practices and prayer life working for me?
The answers to these questions has led me to understand that my prefered way to
pastor a church is to click on the "cruise control." Nice and steady, with no bumps along the way. That's not what ministry or being the church is about.
So I've made some changes. I have completly changed how I preach (not an easy thing to do at 59 years of age.) I have embraced a new way of doing devotions that is centered in contemplative prayer and meditation (something else that is not an easy thing to begin to do at 59). I've earnestly begun to broaden my understanding, and importance, of personal spiritual formation.
It's been a challenge . . . but the process is starting to bear a little fruit along the way. Younger people seem to respond to my preaching. I'm being more honest. I've also quit assuming that the people listening to me on Sunday mornings have any kind of basic understanding of the Bible and Christian faith. My daily devotions have challenged me to my soul. I'm not using safe devotional resources anymore. The idea that I am personally responsible for my personal spiritual formation was a foreign idea to me. Not any more. I feel like a rank amateur. I feel like I'm starting over. And, I'm wondering why no one taught me any of this in years past.
I've also been asking question in regards to the church I pastor . . .
-How's the way we do worship been working for us?
-How's the way we are organized working for us?
-How's the way we see and accept others working for us?
-How is our understanding of what a church is all about working for us?
The honest, and at times difficult answers to these questions has led me to believe that the way many of us "do" church is no longer working.
Consider . . .
-Our stance that we are the one's who have to be right, and everybody else has to be wrong, has aliented the Gen X and Millennial generations.
-Our focus on "being" the church ("proper/acceptable" ideology, structure, and polity) instead of helping people experience the church as the body of loving, compassionate and caring Christ.
-Our neglect in failing to reach out to "love our neighbor" by hiding in our fancy church buildings that many congregations can no longer afford, and where we spend more time entertaining the people than we do training up disciples of Jesus Christ.
-Our refusal to truly get to know, let alone acknowledge the existence of the "least of these" out of fears and assumptions that we will be tainted as a result.
-Our refusal to listen to the Gen X and Millennial generations, who were brought up completely different that we were, and as a result have become "Dones" who refuse to participate in organized churches. They don't see the church as the body of Christ, they see the church as an institution that hurts people.
-Our being seen by so many as "mad" at everyone, instead of truly loving and caring of all people. Too many "Christians" believe that being Christian gives them permission to look down their noses at other people, instead of getting dirty trying to help them.
We are at a true crossroads!
The way we do church is no longer working.
It's past time for us to realize that church is ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS and not about correct or accepted ideology.
Its time for us to confess that we were wrong, and that we will make amends.
It's time for people who claim to be Christian, but refuse to follow Jesus, to change the path they are walking on, or get out of the way.
How do we do this?
Perhaps we need to learn again, or for the first time, how to fall in love with Jesus. The Gen X'ers and Millennals are not abandoning Jesus at all. They are embracing Jesus. What they are abandoning is the church, because the church has not taught them about the Jesus that they read about in the New Testament. They are falling in love with Jesus.
Are we truly in love with Jesus, so much so that we will follow him wherever he leads the church? It's time for a good hard, honest, open look in the mirror.
Perhaps . . . learning how to fall in love with Jesus, and being open to confessing that we have been wrong . . . is the place to start. It's where I am right now as an almost 60 year old pastor with over 25 years of experience.
It's painful . . . but the process is leading to a new future. To get there, I've got to get a new map, and learn how to honestly and truthfully read it.
And in the process . . .
God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>