In the Chinua Achebe novel Things Fall Apart, the hero Okonkwo lives a comfortable life as the head of his clan in Nigeria until several catastrophic occurences threaten his way of life, and . . . everything. To say that things fall apart is an understatement.
My clergywomen’s group met last week and a common theme for each of us – all pastors in a variety of settings – is that Things Are Falling Apart. We’ve been a group for over 20 years and have evolved from “young pastors” to a few retired pastors and to a new generation of “young pastors” along with some seasoned pastors who are facing a different Church.
All we’ve known about Church from worship attendance to Sunday School to mission trips to committee structures to What Pastors Do has changed dramatically over the past two years which is obviously a time lapse version of what’s been happening in the Church over the past 50 years. Thank God for COVID?
We grieve the deaths of over 1 million people in the United States and countless others with long term consequences, not to mention the tally of deaths worldwide. Also, God uses everything including natural and human made catastrophies.
And as far as The Church goes, COVID has forced us to face what some have been screaming from the village steeple for a while now. (Hello Presbymergent Friends from the late 90s.) And as we declare that “Jesus will always have a Church” while also admitting that “Everything is Falling Apart” it’s time to reframe the narrative.
Sometimes we can’t grow until things fall apart. We hate that, but it’s true.
I’m not saying that God makes our lives crumble before our eyes. But I am saying that God uses the spiritual tumult that comes about every 500 years to alter what needs to be altered if for no other reason than the fact that we are tempted to idolize what is not God – from temples and popes to pipe organs and pews.
Back to the novel Things Fall Apart, it was the Christian Church who brought destruction to Okonkwo’s family and his way of life. In these days when the Christian message has been hijacked, we who want to follow the Jesus of the Bible find ourselves with new opportunities.
As we watch things fall apart for the Institutional Church, there are opportunities to focus on real things:
- How shall we live in this culture where “the sanctity of life” means completely different things to different people?
- How do we talk about God when some tout a John Wayne God and others read Matthew 25?
- How do we practice our faith in a broken world?
- How do we practice our faith when we are broken?
As things continue to fall apart in our culture, God will use it. God hasn’t caused it. But God will use it.