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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Change is gonna' come

"but I know, change is gonna' come, yes it is." Sam Cooke

Having spent the last 8 months out of the daily rhythm of parish life, I have been able to spend some time looking at the forest, and not getting so caught up in one tree. (That is always the danger of parish ministry.) Change has come.

10 years ago when I talked about mission, and about congregations forging and fostering relationships with their communities and the people within them I had few listeners. Now, that's all we--and everybody else--talks about. The language has changed, attitudes are slowly coming around, and behaviors will be after that. It's good to see, but I wonder how much people will change? Especially those whose already seems engaged and working?

By the time I was done with Prairie Table Ministries in North Dakota all we owned was a camera, some donated Bibles, and a rolling cabinet. I carried everything I needed for a week's worth of ministry in two green recycleable bags you get from grocery stores. We had communionware that we borrowed from our synod, and a couple of table crosses people had given us. We met in the basement of another church in town--and had we stayed--we would have moved into other venues as well, but not churches. PTM was a pretty itinerant ministry, and it worked well for people who didn't need buildings, programs, offices, and Robert's Rules of Order. For those whom that kind of stuff is church--well, they never understood what we did. As one of my pastor friends remarked so honestly to me, "Scott, I can't even pretend to understand what you do for church."

Every established church I go to these days seems to be suffering from a lack of energy and power. Oh, I see a few people engaged in whatever God has the congregation doing, but mostly not. Announcement after announcement is encouraging people to do the same things, but with different labels, and if the fervency of the type size or the stridency of the implorer's voice is any indication, it's not going well. But this is the change that comes. What did we expect to happen if we no longer focus on raising money or maintaining buildings as the locus of God's mission in any given area? Did we expect staff to grow even if we are saying they are no longer needed? Did we really expect people to continue to give to us, when we have persented them with so many options of giving to others? Have we actually received what we've been preaching for the past 20 years? What if the decline of the local congregation is a sign of our success, rather than a sign of our failure? What if the kids we taught to think about others, to love God by loving strangers, to reach out into new communities to help "in mission" are leaving local congregations because they learned those lessons so well?

Over the past couple of years I have--through Facebook--been brought into contact with some of my most favorite young adults over the past 20 years of ministry. Obviously, they are not so young anymore. But they are doing the things we did together--helping those in greater need than themselves, reaching out to others, especially strangers and those not like themselves, and taking care of God's creation. But they are not going to church. (though there seems to be a few exceptions.) So those congregations that no longer have the energy and power are not "dying," but rather are now sharing exactly what preachers like me have been harping on for 20 years. Change came. Who knew?

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

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