Pastor’s Email Devotion – Neil Snyder, Guest Devotioneer
The Week of Pentecost 10
August 2, 2015
It seems fair to say that the emergent church discussion out there sincerely tries a to look at church and secular history, draw some reasonable patterns, blend that into what they see happening currently in the western Christian experience and then offer the fruits of these exercises as a guideline by which we might travel the pathway to a different looking Christian church. What I like about it is that I do not sense or see that they have any agenda in mind as to what they think things should, or ought to look like – only that things are-a-changing far more rapidly than ever before, with technology being perhaps one of the most significant accelerants. Much of what they speak about starts with the observation of a declining western Christian church attendance, more people saying they are spiritual rather than religious, more people listing their religious affiliation as “none”, and more people claiming their “authority” is not necessarily or solely scripture or the organized church, but rather their own experience.
It is a great discussion that I first feared a bit because it forced me to face the (superficial?) reality that overall church attendance is declining steadily and it seems every other grouping of humans are increasing! It can get depressing. But a couple of things struck me that helped me move on with thinking about this with a bit more ease.
First, Pastor Ross commented at a meeting not too long ago that perhaps attendance and financial giving may not be the only or fairest ways to judge the vitality and mission of the church. Perhaps the quality and depth of our outreach and social justice efforts are examples of equally good measures of our vigor and sustainability. Is this a way of avoiding the harsh truth and irrefutability of the cold hard facts? I do not think so. These outreach ministries can be measured in some ways I am sure, but not as quickly or conveniently as attendance and financial numbers. I draw from Pr. Ross’ comment too, that the richness of each member’s faith journey is a wonderful criterion, but a humanly difficult one to measure, if it really should be “measured” at all.
Secondly, it really does mean something to say with great relief that it is God’s church, not so much authorized, but actually created by God through the words of his Son, first directed to Peter, and then to all of us through The Great Commission. So thanks be to God that he saw to it that His church was not left to his children’s brokenness to either create or destroy, but to help and participate with Him in sustaining His Church through trusting in His guidance, wisdom, mercy, and love.
So, we are covered. We cannot destroy His church and dictate what it will look like in the future, try as we sometimes do. Nor can we sit idly by, fold our arms, sit back, and let God take care of it since it is his “thing” – we are not entitled to be just served by His Church. We must offer our trust, a little sweat, and our obedience in exchange for his love, faithfulness, promises, grace….and His Church. Not a bad deal, I think. Maybe we should “worry” about getting our portion of our assigned tasks done, but not the end product. The church is not going anywhere where God doesn’t want it to go. I have not heard anything about the Great Commission being repealed.
It seems to me that the emergent and other similar “future church” discussions ought to be embraced and used as a tool box of thoughts from which we can extract the wisdom and discernment to confidently continue along the pathway to a different looking church, just like those who did so before us. As an example, we need to go no further than to see where God, our clerical staff, and lay leaders have taken us this summer (and maybe beyond) in our Narrative Series worship experience. It’s a piece of the journey that may or may not stick. No matter, it isn’t the last piece.