For more than 10 years I’ve had a weekly ritual before practically every teaching opportunity. I’ll put my headphones (now airpods) on and I’ll listen to the Jars of Clay classic “Worlds Apart”. My prayer, as the words envelop my thoughts, always centers on allowing God to really take my world apart where it concerns what and how I communicate. In other words … take me out of the equation and let the message find its mark in the hearts of those listening. I’m no judge as to the effectiveness of the prayer since my “opinion” on how things went was completely skewed and still subjective to my own personal feelings afterwards. Now, stopping to take a breath and look backwards, I can see the irony in how God, as is often the case, has been answering this prayer in completely unintended ways. As I sit here in a familiar neighborhood space, I am coming to an understanding that my pastoral world of almost 30 years has been completely taken apart. This morning I see things completely different than I did when I began that prayer. It wasn’t my intent … all I wanted was a bit of assistance in my preaching role. Probably should have been more pointed.
What I used to see as excuses from less than committed church members, complaints tainted by stereotypes of the church, or selfish objections from people who were “losing their church”, I know see through different lenses. What is being echoed now in generations following mine has been smoldering in mine and my wife’s hearts for years and now burns deep in our souls. Colleagues I once judged as lacking for suffering burnout or needing a “career change” I now have greater empathy for. The Student ministries I once blamed for contributing to the mass exodus of gen X and now millennials from the church I now see as products of environments that I myself contributed to. I’m fairly sure, barring a personal visit from Jesus, I’ll never again lead in this environment that I once cherished and thrived in. To be clear, I thoroughly loved most of the journey and still believe that, in spite of my own flaws and idiosyncrasies, great Jesus centered and God glorifying things were accomplished. I know people’s lives were changed, as was my own. I have no regrets, I just can’t go back. I have become unraveled.
Recently my wife has directed my attention to the song lyrics “maybe it’s time to let the old things die” from the new version of “A Star is Born”. It’s a fairly simple yet profound statement that I think is giving us some direction in our newest chapter. A frequently touted maxim in my years of traditional church world leadership was “the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing yet expecting a different outcome”. We all had it memorized and yet had no ability to apply it … sounds a bit like our current public school teaching philosophy. There are warning signs all over the Western worlds version of Christianity. No matter the context, the conversations are the same:
- We don’t listen … we are too busy proclaiming “our vision” and establishing it as God’s without ever asking what our people or, God forbid, the community thinks.
- We aren’t transparent … just where the hell does this money go and what are our spending priorities?
- We don’t “really” love our neighbors/neighborhoods … again, while we might have our own ideas, we don’t actually ask the neighborhood what would be “good news” to them. Sure we will love them if they come in our doors on Sunday but we aren’t interested in the Monday through Saturday life of the community. Serving means in our context and our building … not theirs.
- Building the “Show” is more important than building relationships.
To those who know these things to be true, let me offer you this encouragement; This may all sound depressing and too familiar, but please don’t give up hope. The church is not dead … in fact it is still very much alive. It is indeed on the front end and earliest years of a reawakening. In my unraveling I have come to encounter a wave of change and a great many who refuse to give up on the “hope of the world” that God planned and Jesus established so many generations ago. I plan on being part of the change and if these things echo in your hearts I encourage you to find a way to be part of it. I don’t know what it’s going to look like exactly but I have a few leanings. If all that I hear echoed in the hearts of fellow wanderers is accurate, and if even half of their sentiment is true, I believe it will be much more organic, much less programmatic, less consumer focused, more open welcoming, loving, transformational … possibly more New Testament? Maybe it is time to let the old things die.