When Meg and I got married she drove a little Ford Escort. It was a lovely shade of red. Which worked perfectly, because as the car began to rust it blended right in with the paint. I would have preferred a stick, but it was an underpowered automatic. The car would struggle up hills – without a running start I was not sure it would reach the peaks of southern Missouri**. The doors were so skinny I imagined they would collapse like tin foil in any wreck – leaving us as accordions. Plus with so many miles the car seemed to bounce from one repair to the next. Picturing Meg stranded on the side of the road, I taught her to drive my car’s stick shift and took the dreamliner. I also opted to get AAA roadside – the free tow rides made the service a bargain.
Of course we also prepared for the future. We set aside money monthly in preparation for the next event and the knowledge that someday we would need a new car. And when Meg was pregnant with Ivy, we sold it.
**I can distinctly remember leaning forward on steep hills – hoping that would provide extra oomph to push the car over the top. – I would guess my physics teacher is shaking his head… but I can not say for sure, since I do not know how the person/car physics works.
As a machine ages it will break down more and more frequently. But this is also true of everything in life. We see it with people. We see it in politics. Just watch the events in Washington. Or for that matter Europe (and it only took the Euro a few decades – which is kind of tragically impressive!). Of course our country has needed many rebirths. The Civil War. The Great Depression. Each bringing changes to the system. Reinventing the system. And now we are in need of another (over 15 trillion in debt), if we are to avoid calamity…
The question is if we are ready to prepare and move into the future? Or is the calamity required??
The church is also a system. At times it needs to be reinvented. Rebirthed.**
** Do not misread me, I speaking of the church as the institution – NOT Christ or His calling. Jesus is truth. His life is the true way to live. It will always be perfect. But the church as a group must have structures. And these will fall into disrepair.
Sitting in Rhett’s office today we discussed upcoming events. We talked about how to accomplish a project. The conversation turned to paying the bills and then to the overall outlook at the church. We mentioned doing the Lord’s work. And I laughed and said, “It may not be the Lord’s work, but it is church work.”
I was kidding. Yet at a certain level, I was not. There are many things I do to keep the institution humming… and I wonder – what should the church look like today?
Obviously lots of people are asking this question today. Hence the rise of church starts – churches started by a pastor trained by a denomination, but planting as non-denominational (and within this the emerging movement). This strategy – church planting – does allow a clean break. A fresh slate. You can ask the question what should the church be today… and do it from the beginning.
But churches are not cars to trade-in, so there is a problem with this strategy: It leaves things behind. Part of what is left behind are programs that need to be dismantled. But it also leaves people behind. I have never visited an emerging church (even non-denominational) with a strong over-sixty group. For that matter most were dominated by a much younger crowd.
To transition a traditional church, a pastor must commit for the long haul. We can not look at one year – but ten years, twenty years. And it is not just my commitment that is required, but the whole church. To be faithful to the process. To the change. To the struggle… No one can bail (or be bailed – ha!). Or the whole process will crumble.
And then what awaits? But calamity that will bring the change we were too scared to try…
What do I mean about transition? What will the church look like? … One Thought:
For generations the word church became synonymous with the building. To this end churches put more and more resources into the building. A great percentage of the budget. Of course the building was (and is) a great tool. But the tool became the reason for church debt. The load of debt and upkeep hindered the very ministry and mission the tool was meant to perform! I have felt this reality pan out now in two churches. First in Augusta, now at Chandler – debt has been taken on and forced the atrophy of ministry and mission.
Yet, we live in a world waking up to the reality that church is not a building. Church is people. It is a movement. Is the fulfillment (or should be) of God’s Kingdom. The tree bearing the first fruits of heaven…
Churches will always need space to meet, but I want to lead us to a place where building is not the focus of our budget. I want to prepare us for the future where the church will be more a movement than a building.
What if our mission and ministry dollars equaled the amount we spent on our building? Sure this is not possible with our debt. But lets set out to pay it off. Not with dreams of more buildings, but with dreams of more mission trips.