Why are so many of our churches so afraid of the future?
This is a continuation of the series the Church and I. It’s some of the angst I’ve been wrestling with and questioning ever since I’ve entered parish ministry.
Here are the previous post from this series:
The Church and I: Part 1
JJ Watt, Harvey, and the Church.
There are many times where I’ve frustratingly asked, “Why are we so afraid of the future?”
Not only are we afraid of the future — we struggle to live in the now.
What we do, instead, is we hold on to the past. We white knuckle everything, grit our teeth, stand our ground, and convince ourselves that what we’ve done for the past 30 years will continue to work.
All the while complaining why no one is coming to the church.
There have been churches where I’ve walked into and felt like I walk into some sort of time capsule.
Outside the church, it’s 2017.
Inside the church, it’s 1975.
What ultimately happens to a church like that is all their resources, time, energy, money, efforts is used to maintain the building; keeping the status quo the status quo; preserving the glory days; keeping the nostalgia alive; and driving out anyone who dares to rock the boat or ask questions. I’ve always compared it to the 50 year old dude who still wears his varsity football jacket and talks about “the game” like this dude (sans varsity jacket):
The sad truth is — God has left that building long ago. They’re not a church anymore, they’re a museum filled with relics of the past. They’re a nursing home with occasional visitors.
They’re sole purpose is to survive.
When the mission and purpose of the church is to survive we become useless to God.
When we’re in survival mode — everything is scarce; our resources are limited; we’re invested whole-heartedly to keeping things the way they are; we can’t share life with our neighbors because it’ll effect our bottom line and our livelihood; we can’t invite new people into leadership in fear that they might change things. We walk around gingerly and tenderly as if everything around us is a valuable historical artifact.
God invites us into a life-giving future — but instead of focusing on what we can gain from accepting God’s invitation, we focus on what we’re asked to give up; what we may end up losing. So we ultimately say to God, thanks but no thanks. We’re good right where are; doing what we’ve always done. But can you make our church grow because we haven’t had new members for about 10 years now?
And it’s these churches that are young clergy killers.
Because they’re convinced that a young pastor will get younger people into the church and that can once again return to their glory days.
But the problem is — they want to pour new wine into old wineskin.
They’ll fight the young clergy on every idea that she has and then they’ll be resentful towards the young clergy for trying to change things and not being able to bring young families to their church.
The young clergy will feel taxed and perhaps to the brink of burnout. They may gain some bad habits that will affect the rest of their vocation.
If the church can’t get their head out of survival mode — the best thing they can do for the Kingdom of God is to just die. I know, harsh. But:
In a faith that’s wholly dependent on Resurrection — we’re really afraid of death.
We won’t know — we don’t know — what God can do if we just get the hell out of the way.
And sometimes, a church has to die to make way for God to do new things in that community.
God’s intentions for a church isn’t to merely survive — but to thrive.
God’s intentions for a church isn’t to be guardians of the past; preservers of a local tradition — God calls the church to be live-givers; life transformers.
We believe that God is the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
We act as if God is only the God of yesterday. So we ignore the today and fear the tomorrow.
As Erwin McManus writes:
I have found the church strangely walking backward into the future. The church has become an institution that preserves the past and fears the future. It is not an overstatement to say that the church has become more of a reflection of what we are running from than what we are running to.
No wonder we have lost our power to change the world. No wonder the church has lost its magnetism to a world searching for hope. We are seen as the guardians of tradition. The church is known for fighting the future rather than creating the future that humanity desperately needs.
What McManus wrote resonated with my soul.
Why do we keep fighting the future when we have an opportunity to create a future?
Why do we choose to be regressive when we have the option to make progress?
Why are we so absent from the present and so afraid of the future?
It’s because we choose to trust our methodology — our way of doing things — over trusting God.
It’s because we choose to live out a preference driven life over a purpose driven life.
It’s because we choose our past over God’s mission.
It’s because we fear instead of trust.
It’s because we desperately ask God to bless what we are already doing instead of asking what God may want us to do.
It’s because we focus on the life that God seemingly is asking us to give up rather than focusing on the life that God wants to give us.
Who better to engage in the here and now than the church?
Who better to create and shape a future filled with hope than the church?
Don’t get me wrong: our past; our history; the shoulder of the saints that we stand upon — they are vital to who we are. But our past is simply describes us. It does not define us.
In no way should our history shackle us from the future God has planned for us; a future God is leading us into.
Why are we so afraid?
We believe in a God that redeems, restores, and resurrects.
How much bigger is God than our fears?
What are we afraid of?
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
As Oprah once said:
We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds it.
That should be enough for us to partner with God in creating a future that is full of hope and love and life.
I want to be in a church that would rather risk it all in the face of uncertainty than hoard everything so tightly.
I want to be part of a church that would rather risk death in partnering with God than be the guardians of the status quo.
I want to be part of a church that thrives rather than survives.
For what’s the point of living if there’s no life?