What would an upside down world look like?


I was talking to some friends about planting churches. Actually, I’m always talking about starting new churches, because that’s where our energy should be in the mainline (Does anyone have a better term than mainline? Anyone?). And in the conversation, I realized once again that there’s an incredible vitality coming from certain corners of the church to change everything.

I don’t think we need to change everything, because, as a church we do so many things well. Really, really well. I have sat next to the bedside of too many dying people, and I’ve watched the members of my congregation streaming in with mountains of casseroles. There’s just no other place in our society where people will take care of you like that. Well, there may be other places, especially if a person has a lot of friends, but churches will take care of the friendless.

In one day’s work, I’ve seen our faith community feed the homeless, speak out for peace, support 12-step programs, house victims of domestic violence, build a health clinic in Ethiopia, and help get prostitutes off the streets. I don’t want to change that. There’s too much good going on here. And in so many churches. But I digress….

The point is that there’s a passionate movement. And, I wonder, what are we going to do? Are we going to take all of that exhilaration and intelligence, stifle it, box it up, and then force it to sit with the Ladies’ Afternoon Tea for ten years until it runs away? Are we going to make it to stay up late, enduring two-hour meetings every night, debating about whether the communion bread ought to be cut into circles or squares? Are we going to bide our time until the movement of the Holy Spirit has been damned up and the waters have run dry? What are we going to do with all of these seminarians who want to turn the world upside down? Do we have the courage to let them go?

When I was in my senior year, I remember a professor saying that he wanted me to go to a new church development, because, he said, “You don’t know about all the things that you can’t do yet.”

That was ten years ago. And now I know. Maybe I’m wiser. But maybe I’ve lost something.

This is a critical point in time for the church, and I don’t want our new pastors to lose anything. So, what if we give them a space, an income, a seasoned pastoral coach, and send them out to build congregations? We’re closing plenty of churches. What if we resisted the temptation to fight over the retired church’s assets for the next decade, and put that money to work right away? What if we allowed the new pastors to put all of their energy into planting the church, without having to worry about tentmaking?

I fully understand the ratio of success for new church developments. But this is a critical time. People out there have the desire, and maybe even the ability, to change everything. What if we let them do it?

photo’s by sickler

4 thoughts on “What would an upside down world look like?

  1. I don’t toss around words like the one I am about to use lightly, however, I think this is more than a critical point in time for the church. I think we’re in the middle of a Reformation; we just don’t know it yet.

    You can’t swing a stick in Pittsburgh without hitting a Presbyterian Church. I could be wrong now, but when I was in seminary there 12 years ago, Pittsburgh Presbytery was the smallest geographically, but had the largest number of members. Well, the largest church in the presbytery just left the PCUSA to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. As a minister in the PCUSA, it makes me sad that they no longer felt at home in our denomination. Right now the PCUSA is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country. But did God say it has to be that way? No. This is a different issue, I know, than opening and closing churches. But I lift it up as a sign af the drastic change that I think is taking place.

    In a couple months I am officiating a wedding at our church for a couple that are not members. They belong to a mega-church in the area. However, they want to get married in our church because “it looks and feels like a church.” I don’t want to pin too much to one conversation with one couple. However, I can’t help but wonder what that says about the future of the mega-church movement.

    50 years ago it was pretty easy for Christian churches in this country to craft a statement regarding how they would interact with Muslims and Jews. It was easy because for the most part they never interacted with Muslims and Jews. I grew up in North Carolina and growing up I couldn’t have told anybody where a Catholic Church was, much less a Synagogue or Mosque.

    Times are changing.

  2. Yes! My husband describes it as “the perfect storm.” So much is swirling around right now. It’s very exciting. And it’s strange too, because there are some people who don’t even notice it.

    “It looks and feels like a church” is very interesting. My sister did that too. She worshipped in a warehouse, then she got married in a sanctuary. I guess it made better photos…but…maybe the building matters more than we think.

    This is my dream regarding our sanctuaries… I read “Dwell” magazine, and I’m always intrigued by environmentally friendly prefabs. This one’s not the best one, but you get the idea. They have home shows on the Mall in DC, with homes that they put up in a week. They can be beautiful, affordable, and efficient. And the designs are getting better and better every year.

    So, nationally, what if we got architects to design beautiful, efficient, prefab (gasp!) sanctuaries? I mean, they’ve got to be better than meeting in a store front, right?

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