Months ago, many congregations turned off their metaphorical lights. Before those lights get turned back on, though, it would be good to answer this important question: What will it mean to be the church? In this and subsequent entries, I offer some observations and recommendations.
Let’s start at the beginning: I’m not sure we can put our congregations back together like they were before. Too many factors have changed in our spiritual and emotional landscapes. We’ve lived with anxiety, fear and anger for at least this past year, and those mindsets won’t disappear easily. Economic and relational priorities have changed the way many of us live. The bedrock principles of societal and congregational life—e.g., trusting others, seeking the greater good, courage in proclaiming the truth—may have taken a hit during the years of the former Federal administration. We may not be the same people that we once were.
The clamor of our times has included a proliferation of voices—some of them noise-prone—who claim the authority to determine what the future will be like. That’s confusing at best and demoralizing at worst. Some of those voices continue to hold our attention without deserving it. Others manipulate our emotions and priorities through anger and hate. That noise is not going away.
It also seems to be true that the supportive structures of the wider church may be difficult to maintain. Some church bodies have experienced significant downturns in financial or emotional support. Loyalty to denominational priorities may be hard to reclaim among congregations and their leaders. It may be difficult to shift congregational attention past basic institutional maintenance.
Let me be clear, though: None of this means that congregations are doomed to failure. The opposite is more likely. Necessity will be the mother of congregational change. We’ll start pruning our presumptions about church while getting back to basics.
That fact energizes my spirit, and that’s where my thoughts will head in the following entries. I’m staying hopeful and realistic, a good starting place for what’s next!