Lately I have been thinking about church . . . not the church where I serve as a pastor . . . but, the church. It seems that there has been a lot of upheaval in the church for the past couple of decades. The mainline denominations have seen drastic decline in membership . . . which now seems to also be hitting the more independent and charismatic movement with declining membership. Polls and research show that there is an increase in those who see themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”. This group is being called the “nones”. Research is showing that the religious climate is changing and that what is now known as “church” isn’t going to be “church” in a couple of more decades or maybe even years. This, of course, has brought lots of divisiveness into the remaining churches as they struggle with getting a grip on declining membership and mere survival. It is not a fun time being the “church”.
In times of upheaval there always seems to be those who want to offer solutions to the issues and problems . . . even within the realm of the dying “church”. There is a movement called the Emergent Church . . . there is Missional Church . . . there is church transformation . . . contemporary worship . . . blended worship . . . and, even a movement for what is being called the flipped church (look it up on the Internet). Amazingly these solutions are just as controversial as the issues and problems they are attempting to remedy. As I stated earlier, it is not a fun time in the world of “church”.
The saddest thing I have witness from this transitional period in the life of the “church” are those who have been wounded by all of this divisiveness. All of the divisiveness has ripped the church apart and strewn it far, far from what it supposedly represents (at least according to New Testament understanding) as being the body of Christ in the world. The wounded have fled the “church” and are witness to those on the outside that the “church” is not a safe place to be. The “church” I have known and loved, trained to serve in, is no longer there . . . but, at the same time I am not sure that where it is at right now is much better. The goal, I think, is to survive the transition and see what is born.
So . . . I have been thinking about “church”. In particular, I have been thinking about what a “church” should be for me. I cannot state that what I share is correct . . . it is just my thoughts and opinions . . . and, I am sure that there will be those who disagree with me. There may be some who agree. These words are not the definitive answer either . . . they are just the ramblings emanating from the rock garden between my ears. For better or worse, it is a place to begin a conversation. Maybe, somewhere, in the conversation the “church” can be found again.
Foremost, in my thoughts, the “church” needs to be a safe haven. The “church” needs to be a place where people can go, be accepted, feel safe, and be who God created them to be. I know that this is almost a statement of heresy as most churches are the most homogeneous places in the world . . . everyone is basically the same. The same income levels, education, race, hobbies, politics . . . cookie cutter congregations. If a person does not fit the mold, that person is not going to feel accepted or safe. God created humans as unique and diverse individuals with no two similar . . . just like snowflakes. A church should be the place where none of that makes any difference . . . where diversity is embraced . . . and people are accepted for they are since all were created in the image of God. People go where they feel accepted and safe . . .
Reminds me of what I call Cheers theology. Well, not so much the show itself, but its opening theme song. Remember the words to that song?
Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
Yeah, I think the “church” should be a safe haven . . . a place where everyone knows my name and accepts me for who I was created to be.
I also think that the “church” should be a place where people can come to explore the “call” of God upon their lives. To be able to discover the gifts and talents that God has blessed them . . . to test out their spiritual gifts . . . to test their wings. In a safe haven there would be support and encouragement, discussion and discernment. It would be a place where it is okay to fall down . . . to fall short, but to always have someone there willing to pick up those fallen down and let them try again.
And, in such a setting the “church” would also be a place of challenge. Herein lies another thing that I think the “church” should be . . . a place of challenge. I do not believe that the “church” can be the body of Christ in the world if it never leaves the confines of its structure . . . the “church” cannot hide its light under a bushel. No, the “church” also has to be a place where those who have found safety, found themselves, found their gifts and talents are challenged by one another to use these for the world around them and beyond them . . . to go out and be the body of Christ . . . to help others discover themselves in relation to the God who created them as God’s children. The “church” must be a place of challenge too.
I could get excited about a church that functioned in such a manner . . . and, at times, I think that I have stumbled upon this “church” in my journey of faith. I realize that these are pretty simple ideas . . . probably nothing original . . . and, a wealth of fodder for those who want to take be out behind the shed and wail on me. I am also certain that my thoughts are bits and pieces of many of the solutions that are being offered right now as there is nothing new under the sun. But, I like the idea of a place where everyone knows my name and I feel safe to be me.
It is not a fun time to be the “church”, but it is an exciting time. It is a time of exploration and opportunity. Exploration to see who God truly created us to be . . . opportunity to grow into what we were created to be. It is silly to think that at any point in the journey of the “church” that it had fulfilled its destiny—I don’t see the kingdom yet! Growth is not easy . . . sometimes it hurts . . . but it is always a process. A process that should take place in a community where people feel safe to be themselves, to explore their gifts and talents, and to be challenged to share with those on the so-called outside. A process that will someday take us to a place where everyone knows our name . . . “church”.