A Word From the Pastor
DENIAL - PARALYSIS - CHANGE
These are the three responses church folks, and in particular church leaders, have to the predicament of the church in North America. Not just the United Methodist Church, but all mainline, historic denominations. This is according to Thom Schultz, researcher and publisher of Christian books and materials for forty years.
As the world view and American culture changes drastically outside the church, the attendance, commitment and involvement inside the church is shrinking drastically. And in his exploration of this, Schultz has found that people involved in church usually have one of these three responses:
Denial: although it is very hard to still be in denial there are those who hold fast to the idea that things are not that bad and churches just need to hold on and it will be OK.
Paralysis: things are bad but what’s a church leader to do? There are new books, videos, guides, workshops coming out every day all giving different ideas and practices that we’re told will be sure to turn things around. There is so much to choose from and the cost (both monetary and in losing present members and giving) is worrisome. As Schultz puts it, “Some wallow in grief and sadness, unable or unwilling to deal with their losses and disappointments. Some are bewildered by their choices. Some hope against hope that circumstances will magically turn around on their own. Some fear change of any kind. Some fret that any change will cause someone to get upset and leave, or trim their tithe.” He goes on to say, “They're plagued with fear, indecisiveness and lethargy. Even if they find a way to bring new vitality to their ministry, they typically study it to death, brood over it, sink it into a committee coma, and delay it until sometime next year, or the year after that.”
Change: as uncomfortable as it may be, some leaders give thanks for the past and then look forward. They are willing to try and risk failure rather than do nothing at all. But success does depend on one very important focus: “The successful change agents are not changing God's message, but they're exploring different methods to spread the message, to be more effective stewards with the gifts God has given.”
Schultz is someone who has a wide view of the church in today’s world so I think it is helpful to use his categories and ask ourselves a few questions:
1. Where is our Pastoral Leader (that would be me!) in these categories? Is she leading us in denial, paralysis, or change?
2. Where are we, as a congregation, the Body of Christ, at this time in this place? What is our focus as we do ministry?
3. Where am I (the one who is reading this newsletter) in this scenario? What is my immediate, gut level response?
Interesting and important questions. I won’t tell you where I am but if you want to know, please ask. I do think there’s no doubt where we all should be. In a perfect world we’d be working on the changes that need to happen in order for us to continue the 230+ years of ministry sharing the message of God’s love and forgiveness to the people all around us. Change is the hardest place to be but also the most hopeful. Schultz describes it this way, “They are ordinary people who believe that God will do extraordinary things through them. They pray fervently, and they rely on the One who makes all things new. They're open to God's leading. They listen to God's command to ‘fear not.’ Even though they realize they don't have all the answers, they're willing to step out--one step at a time into a future that isn't perfectly clear.”
Wow, “step out – one step at a time into a future that isn’t perfectly clear.” That is a scary, exciting, hopeful place to be. And it is where God is waiting for us. So let’s step out, encouraging each other along as we love God, serve as Christ did, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, may we share and experience the power of God’s presence in our lives now and in all the days to come.