Hope does not disappoint

I was visiting with a nearby church governing body, talking about Tribal Church, and the pastor asked, “The book is very hopeful, but do you think it might be too hopeful?”

It’s a good question. Six million young adults have left our churches (evangelical and mainline). We cannot keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results. We will need to change.

But we will change. There is no doubt about that fact. There is going to be a major, undeniable shift in the next twenty years. In my denomination, the PC(USA), 40% of our churches do not have pastors. Most of those churches are under 100 members and cannot afford ministers.

Add to that, we have a swell of Baby Boomers who will be retiring in the coming years, so that we will go from 700 retirees per year to almost twice that number. With that level of overturn, there is no way that the landscape of our denomination will look the same. Things will alter dramatically as a new generation comes into power. We do not need to force it. It will be a natural evolution.

And, as most pastors learn, when a church is in upheaval, when people are grieving the past, the best thing to do is to give people hope. I don’t see any point in berating church leaders for not being relevant enough, or effective enough, or good enough. I don’t see how that gets us anywhere. (Although… I have noticed our strange love for people who beat us up… I just don’t think that’s the most effective approach.)

But I did not write about hope for the mainline because I think it’s an empty motivator. I didn’t just do it because I think it’s a pragmatic tool. I wrote a hopeful book because I have a very optimistic outlook for our church.

When we look at the churches that are closing, we realize that the money for the sale of the property will go back to the local governing body. Then the proceeds often go for developing new churches. And, it just seems to me that the Holy Spirit must be moving in all of this, because there is, at the same time, a generation of pastors who want to plant churches. They are innovators, and they can’t wait to start something fresh and new.

I have hope for our denominational churches, because we have been advocates for social justice for decades, even when it wasn’t popular. And, in the years to come, the college students who grew up with W, are leaning quite heavily to the left.

And while we’re looking at adults under 25, we can also note that they’re not snarky and cynical like me and much of my generation. They are much more institutionally and community minded. They are less likely to do drugs. They do things like vote and join organizations. And, if we’re smart, they might even start joining churches. They are, numerically, huge. Much bigger than the Boomers. 

I have hope for our denominational churches, because we have spent years in prayer and meditation. We have practiced the art of discernment in troubled times. We have held fast to our intellectual integrity. And we have been wresting with some deep issues concerning unity and diversity. We hold all of these spiritual traditions in our bellies. And this is a time when the world is hungry for them.  

Photo by Helmut Gondim

15 thoughts on “Hope does not disappoint

  1. I don’t know, Ruth.

    The North African Church once blossomed and then failed when it started dabbling in Gnosticism. I think our universalism will see the removal of the Holy Spirit from amongst us, and our eventual apostasy will bring about our demise.

  2. Carol-
    I can see how your book inspires hope, and I believe that there is, but that is the future. What do those of us do that are waiting? Here is my delima. I love the church I am in, and I believe that it can do great things. The problem is change (see my blog posting about robes in the church… http://jamesandjessfischer.blogspot.com/2008/09/robes-or-no-robes-what-do-you-think.html).

    My church called a new (young) senior pastor, and a new (also young) associate pastor. The search committee told the congregation when they were voting on both of these pastors that they were voting for change. Now that they are here, the congregation (average age 64) seems to want to grab on to everything and anything that could possibly change and not let it go. It is frustrating and pushing less committed people out of the church very quickly. (If it wasn’t for my insistance, my husband would be one of those out…We are the youngest “active” couple in our church.)

    So what is the younger generation supposed to do? Just sit around and wait for churches to die and then go to a church plant? What do we do until then? Also, how do we get those churches that are dying to allow power and resources to be allocated those church plants?

    Now mind you, we are really not asking for all controll and power! We just would like to sing a couple of songs not written before 1985, be a part of worship leading once in a while, and have some say in the operations (aka, committees, governing, etc). But no one seems to care that we exist. They keep saying that young people need to come in to church, yet when we (mainly my husband and I) speak up and let them know what we, and others like us would like to see and do, they shoot it down with things like “Too much change!” “Not enough resources!” “They won’t come anyway, so why try!” “They are so disrespectful…oh, but not you, you are just fine…!”

    Can you tell this is something that has been troubling me lately? It would be nice to know that something will eventually change, but can that change come before our generation becomes the ones that are being asked to change again?

    PS- Thanks for all of your insight on here. I am trying to get my Sunday School class to study your book. We’ll see how that goes!

  3. “I think our universalism will see the removal of the Holy Spirit from amongst us, and our eventual apostasy will bring about our demise.”

    Sounds a bit too gnostic for me.

    The church is shifting in ways that scare most people. Why does the church exist? I think we have forgotten the answer to this question.

    It is my hope that pride and envy be removed from the “truth” that is espoused from many pulpits in the denomination. I cannot imagine a more prideful action than to pray for revitalization and mission only to expect those that answer the call to be told to conform to “our” ways. This is not community. Jesus met the other where they were at and walked with them in relationship. Relationship takes a community. A community involves many opinions and postures. This leads the church, comprised of communities, to transformation of those communities.

    But what do I know, I am a universalist that is leading others to apostasy.

  4. Carol, I haven’t digested all of the post and the comments, but I wanted to respond about the financial piece. We must all Keep On Our Presbytery’s Toes about safeguarding that money for churches. Enough said.

  5. I enjoy the vision God has given me. I exclude none and let God sort it out. BTW, Carol I read Barth as a universalist as well.

    Besides todays heresy is tomorrows orthodoxy. What if I am so emerging that I have transcended postmodernism and am in a new category entirely occupied by universal lights of universal “ness”?

    I am just saying…only God knows the answer to “What WOULD jesus do?”

  6. Oh, and Jessica. Didn’t mean to ignore your questions, just trying to think of an apt response. Which… I’m having a hard time doing. I just know that you’re right. The present moment is the most difficult one. There’s all this grief because we are losing members, they’re pointing fingers, blaming others (especially younger generations). It’s a tough and painful situation.

  7. this guy from my presbytery last semester told me there is something about the whole death and resurrection thing that gives him hope…a generation that passes away resurrects something else…

  8. Two questions, both sincerely asked:

    1. Ryan: Exactly which heresy of yesterday is now considered orthodoxy? (I mean heresy in the technical sense)

    2. Carol: Will the honorably retired Boomer ministers allow younger ministers to lead, or will they maintain control of Presbytery meetings? If there are many boomers approaching retirement–that will yet remain active in presbytery, this seems to be a real question.

  9. Andy, another good question. It was interesting… my colleague showed me the list of GA Moderators, and pointed out that there has only been one Boomer Moderator. That was Susan Andrews. They were all older. Then there were 2 Xers, Rick and Bruce.

    But, of course, Boomers are all over the GAC, etc. And the people who control the Presbyteries do seem to be of one generation, and I don’t really see the Boomers stepping aside too quickly in our corner of the church. (Not that I have anything against Boomers, mind you.)

    I guess the question there is, where will the change come from? Do middle governing bodies change cultures? They could have a vital, positive impact, when they’re healthy and vibrant. They could provide resources and support when they’re at their best.

    But when governing bodies are in a shambles, that doesn’t seem to have a trickle down effect (anyone have a different experience?).

    In our current shift, power is moving to the edges, and it’s from the edges that things will evolve. Or, in our case, the congregations.

    When people from our church go to the Presbytery meeting, they are usually shocked and confused by it. They don’t feel at all connected to what happens there. I know that goes against our ideals of a “connectional church,” but I think it’s more of the reality.

  10. Let’s hope that part of the change is transparency. I am tired of back room deals amongst supposedly democratic systems. When naive leadership and financial mismanagement happen we wonder why people lose confidence in our system. Our presbytery’s assets are currently being frozen by the bank because of our risky business dealings. It has cost our Presbytery about $28 million and counting while I heard that our portfolio has lost about 8% or somewhere near $2 million dollars. This has eroded my confidence in the leadership of our Presbytery (National Capital). Yet, I am almost sure that we will never be privy to the entire story unless I ask “important” ministers that are in the loop of information. Unfortunately, when we do get the type of information that we need it will already be in the midst of crisis.

  11. Dom Helder Camera (1909-1999), the bishop of Recife, Brazil, went to Vatican II asking the Church sell everything; give it to the poor, and suggesting that the Pope begin living as the humble Bishop of Rome.

    Think of it, selling the Presbyterian Foundation, all our churches and properties. Sell everything and give it to the poor. Then begin following Jesus anew the on the road to Jerusalem.

    An endowment is a curse. It allows the survival of a church long after it ceases to fulfill its mission. Daniel Berigan, in his new book “The Kings and their Gods” mocks Solomon’s building of the temple as more for himself and his glory than for Yahweh. How proud we are of our church buildings. Why not rent space and spend the rest on accomplishing the mission Jesus set for us.

    Sorry, I know this is preachy.

    From a sixty-five year old Presbyterian, I like what I see in the emerging movement: less attachment to institutional structures and doctrines, a discipleship of equals and a commitment to justice and peace. You give me hope.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s