An elder once told me as a new pastor that ____ (a leader in the congregation) would be an essential person in my ministry. “We couldn’t live without her.” Turns out that leader became one of those saboteurs I wrote about the other day.
If you are a Church Person, you know that there are certain sacred cows in every congregation: the beloved retired pastor, the historic preschool, the cemetery, the annual fundraiser, the choir director, the memorial windows, the 9:30 Sunday School, the Big Givers . . .
The list is endless.
Those who try to tip over those sacred cows are often vilified. The ones who try to prop them up again are accused of not moving forward. What we need to do is work together – the traditionalists and the change-agents – to faithfully serve the Church we are called to be. Not the Church we once were. Not the Church we wish we were.
We must be the Church God is calling us to be right now. And we can’t be that Church if we are afraid.
So what if the very thing we value most is what’s killing us/keeping us from being the Church we’re called to be? Examples:
- We loved Pastor Joseph so, so much and under his leadership we grew like we’d never grown before. We will never find another pastor like him. (The Killer: Every subsequent pastor will fail when compared with Pastor Joseph and this makes it impossible to move forward. Times are different from when Pastor Joseph led us and it’s time for noticing that this time calls for a different kind of leadership.)
- We long to have young families join us to help relieve tired volunteers and regenerate the congregation. (The Killer: Yes, young families are wonderful and they are also overwhelmed these days. Chances are that young parents will not be able to volunteer like 1970s stay-at-home moms. And there are members who are not “young” but they have much to offer if we will allow them to lead.
- We love our history and must continue to cling to it. Our cemetery includes war heroes. Some famous people have preached from our pulpit. We were the first church to _______. (The Killer: Notice that the oldest churches in Christendom are long gone. If we allow ourselves to become a museum, we will die. What is God calling us to be and do now? The world is craving Good News.)
- We can’t live without this wealthy widow/this energetic deacon/this longtime treasurer/this beloved organist. (The Killer: That Very Important Person can hold the church hostage, threatening to leave if things don’t go their way.)
- Our sanctuary is not to be touched because we love those pews, those windows, that organ, all the plaques. (The Killer: A huge sanctuary built for 500 but looking empty with our congregation of 75 feels cavernous. The whole set up might be unfriendly to people in wheelchairs, people with nursing babies, people with hearing issues, people who don’t listen to classical music on the radio.)
Let’s say that the congregation calls a new pastor and everyone’s feeling great about the future, agreeing they can never return to their (glorious?) past. That’s just the first step. There will be challenges because, when a church agreed to changing some things, they didn’t imagine they would be asked to change their favorite things.
Sometimes the very thing we value most is also the thing that’s killing us.
The church stands in the way of our being the church. Meister Eckhart said, “The final leave-taking is leaving God for God.” The God of the church is not the God who is God. God is always more than we think God is. Our idea of God is not God. So we must leave God for The Mystery at the heart of life and being. Developing our relationship with the Mystery is all the help the church can be. Not by telling us about God, but by helping us explore the Mystery.
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You had me until the end of the last bullet. Music is a preference, the subject of individual choice. Wheelchairs and poor hearing and nursing babies aren’t choices, they’re conditions churches must be prepared to accommodate. Besides, maybe those people who blast out their choices of music from cars and backyards have never had an opportunity to be exposed to classical music, and the church can provide it!
Excellent point. Thanks.