Converting the Church for the 21st Century
A few pithy comments to wake us from our slumbers about life in today's church:
- "We are out there on the cutting edge of the uncontroversial." Martin Amis
- "When we all think alike, no one thinks very much." Walter Lippman
- "A pastor won't solve all our problems." --a member of a pastor nominating committee
- "We're in a state of transition."- Another honest member of a pastor nominating committee
All churches are in a state of constant transition, as are all of us as individuals. Some churches and some people recognize this.
I've been reading a new book recently titled The Hidden Lives of Congregations by Israel Galindo, published by the Alban Institute. Galindo teaches ministry to seminarians and engages in a great deal of consulting and leadership training for churches. One of Galindo's chief observations is that churches are often unaware of the dynamics that are shaping their lives and futures.
Stay around long enough as a congregation, Galindo observes, and sooner or later; "One of the most powerful of the hidden life forces (emerges)-- the congealing effect of settling into a maintenance mentality more focused on self-preservation than on mission."
Galindo then goes on to cite another author and consultant for churches, Eddie Hammet, and his comments in Making the Church Work. Hammet lists some indicators that provide evidence of a church's drift into a maintenance posture:
- When committee meetings focus on institutional concerns (budgets, maintenance, and relationships) rather than on mission concerns (reaching new people groups, reconciling/relationship, rallying to change the injustices in the community and/or world.)
- When budget planning begins with what we have to work with rather than what God has in mind for us.
- When annual planning consists of doing what we did last year, just on another calendar date (or maybe even on the same date one year later).
- When most conversations revolve around meeting the needs of those in attendance rather than on reaching out to those who are not in attendance.
- When planning, budgeting, and calendaring revolve around institutional buildings and schedules rather than around the needs, conveniences, and comfort zones of those outside the organization.
- When preserving programs, traditions, and rituals get more meeting time, dialogue time, and budget than creating and resourcing new strategies to reach the unchurched, lost, and broken world;
- When people's intent and energy focus more on humoring those in the pew than on penetrating their communities, families, and work-places for the cause of Christ.
Distill all this down to one observation, and you come to the balance or more likely out-of-balance dynamic of the Inward and Outward dimension of a church's life. Ask yourself this question. Is your church tilted more in the inward direction of the church's life? Or does your church seek to be inwardly strong in order to embrace a strong, passionate outward focus on a hurting world and the people around you? Now that would be a worthwhile conversation to hold!
What do you think?