Your pastors are not making this up. It is a new time for Christianity. Articles and books abound on the subject. We even heard it recently from a Supreme Court judge. If projections are right, Christians will soon be a minority in the United States.
These are some of the reasons leaders at Faith are seeking to be proactive and faithful about how to equip ourselves for this new time. Even as you read this, discussion is underway about some new possibilities for how we structure worship, Sunday School and learning and support opportunities. But the bigger issue is all about how we prepare ourselves for a new time for Christianity. This is what’s behind FaithLife Camps: increasing small group ministry opportunities and enhancing worship attendance (especially among families).
For a moment, let’s focus on worship. With so many clear and positive signs of vibrant, faithful, active ministry at Faith Lutheran, many of us are asking why worship attendance has dipped. It has become the elephant in the room. It simply cannot be ignored. Pastors, staff and Faith Lutheran leaders have wondered about all the possible reasons. We realize that we all need to ask honest questions and do some soul-searching. The list of possible reasons for our decreased church attendance is long: The “culture,” time demands/competing Sunday morning activities (happening virtually everywhere), worship styles/times, sermons, changes in how people are getting spiritual needs met, apathy, the offensive and scandalous nature of the gospel that draws some people and causes others to resist, inadequate pastoral and staff leadership, the focus of our ministry and on and on. It would be interesting to know what other things should be added to this list. But whatever the reasons, at the end of the day the next question always comes: “What should we DO about it?”
When we addressed this at a recent staff retreat, I decided to ask a different question. I came up with “10 Things We Should Not Do.” I offer them to all who read this. I hope it helps all of us to begin thinking about what God is calling us to do and be.
TOP TEN THINGS WE SHOULD NOT DO:
- Panic – Jesus still and always creates, owns, runs and rules His church. As long as this is true (which is forever), there is no need for panic.
- Underestimate the powers of darkness/the devil – There are principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12) constantly at work to undermine the gospel in mostly subtle ways.
- Underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to surprise – While it is true that the powers of darkness are always at work, they met their match in the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Underestimate what taking up the cross means – Is the Christian life easy? No! Is it worth it? YES!
- Copy other congregations – There is no other congregation out there like Faith Lutheran. We are uniquely called to this ministry. Transferring the template of what works somewhere else is not likely to work here.
- Envy other congregations –This one relates to #5. A congregation is like a marriage. Every marriage has an (unwritten) “marriage contract.” It is not healthy to live for or pine after another’s contract.
- Ignore the time in which we find ourselves – We can’t ignore the culture and we can’t simply blame the culture. The church needs to assume its rightful place in the culture/world.
- Give up – This is a great temptation. Ministry can be overwhelming work. We need to support each other.
- Do the same old things – In some ways, this is closely related to #8. When we don’t invest time, energy and creativity into new ideas, it can function the same as giving up.
- Be afraid to fail – As long as we hear the truth in 1 Corinthians 1:18ff (foolishness of the cross), we have to rethink failure. What might look like failure in the eyes of the world can, in truth, be the foolish wisdom of God at work. We need look no further than the cross and an empty tomb to see how this works. We live under the God who “makes all things new.”
The main thing we must do is trust what Jesus promised. It is the same thing on which the first disciples had to rely. Namely, we must trust that the Word and Sacraments cut their own course in the world. They create the church. They, through the power of the Holy Spirit, create believers. They ARE the mission (they don’t give us a mission). They equip us and sustain us. They create faith in believers. The combination of the Word and the Holy Spirit ASSURES creativity, surprises, messiness, “failure,” dependency and all things made new. When we stay near the Word, there is no need for fear or panic.
So while we do have to discuss things we might need to DO in the new time for Christians, we do this only from the perspective of the unique thing the church (and no one else) is called to BE.