Is the church life cycle a singular birth-to-death story, or does it revolve in cycles of redefinition, redevelopment and rebirth? With that question in mind, here are some thoughts which I recently shared with the Grace Immanuel Church Council:
Once I fielded the exasperated question from a Property Team Leader, "When are we finished?" My answer: "Never." Everything done comes undone. Cycles of renewal are required in both neighborhoods and churches. If you own an old house, you know what I mean.
The only constant is change. I love Annie Dillard's exclamation in her book by the same name, "Every one hundred years - all new people!" There are ongoing stages of life among members, including our own families. In addition, there are relationship shifts (sometimes confidential) which effect church participation. We can and should care, but we have NO power to reverse these changes in people's lives.
The Church itself is changing form. Notice the capital "C." Douglas John Hall wrote in The End of Christendom and the Future of Christianity, "To express faith in Jesus Christ at this time is...to do so within the context of a religion whose historical destiny is undergoing a metamorphosis - literally, a change of form or shape." We are probably returning to an earlier church model - decentralized, hands-on ministries, bi-vocational pastors, personal discipleship (as opposed to "membership")...biblical salt, yeast and light. These powerful New Testament images are not majority elements, but they change the whole.
Ministry to the edge is...edgy! I remember looking at the cover of Tex Sample's book, Hard Living People and Mainstream Christians. It depicted a party crowd in jean jackets, a bit of bleached hair here or there, with Pabst Blue Ribbon cans in hand - everybody grinning from ear to ear. I thought, "I know them!" Sometimes our members are not partying, but just trying to hold it together from week to week. Churches typically do not serve these people well, but it seems to be a long-term calling of Grace Immanuel.
Partnership brings joy. I had lunch the other day with my older colleague Stew Bridgman, former missionary to Asia and pastor of James Lees Presbyterian Church. We relived past projects we had shared, and talked about recent things like our Grace Immanuel/WaterStep trip to Costa Rica. With a smile on his face, Stew said, "The church faced outward is alive."
Money follows mission. Loren Mead, in The Once and Future Church, insisted that people will still give to mission, however, much of what denominations do today does not look like mission to them. We must keep our focus clear.
Worship life is the key. Kirk Hadaway and David Roozen wrote inRerouting the Protestant Mainstream, "The central element to a revitalized mainstream...is the reclamation of religious experience and spirituality, to let the tangible presence of God back into our churches...to be the Body of Christ."
Look toward the front door. Pastor Emeritus Rev. Gordon Seiffertt has told me this: "Looking back, I wish I had paid more attention to the front door than the back door. The front door you can do something about...but not the back." We should never underestimate the action of the Spirit of Christ, moving people toward us, and we should continually practice invitational evangelism.
Thinking of each of you who have walked through that front door, and the gifts of spiritual companionship we share,