Faith Among the Ruins
Something is not right in the life of one Mainline Protestant Pastor.
For the last few months, I’ve felt like I’ve had a lot I wanted to say about church and especially my on denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). But for some reason, nothing ever was written. The words were there inside of me, but I couldn’t get them out of me, let alone explain what I was feeling. I started articles, but couldn’t finish them. At first, I thought that it was that I didn’t have anything to write, or that I was too busy to write.
But I think something else was taking place. I think the reason I haven’t written is because of the current state of my denomination. A few actions that took place late last year have left me depressed and without a sense of hope. It’s also affecting my ministry with the congregation that I serve.
I’ve also feel less willing to write because the big gaggle of voices that made the Disciples what they are has grown silent. Email and online forums have gone dark with no one talking and sharing. I’m not the most outgoing person, but I loved being able to share what was happening in my neck of the woods and hearing what others are saying. But that conversation seems over. Disciples are an opinionated bunch, but it feels like in the last few years we stopped speaking our minds. This makes me feel a bit more isolated and alone.
But maybe the biggest thing that is pulling me down is the closure of a church. A church that was planted around the year 2000 suddenly closed late last year. Everyone else seemed to take this in stride, but I know it was a blow for many. It was a strong Open and Affirming congregation and seemed like a leader in the denomination. This closure is part of a string of closings of congregations that took place over the last decade or so. I know congregations don’t live forever. But this closing made me wonder if it was worth doing ministry in the Disciples hinterland anymore. It made me feel disempowered for ministry. Why bother doing ministry in your small and struggling congregation since it might close too?
The closings would be easier to take if we were planting new communities, but that isn’t happening. Recent attempts seemed half-hearted and ended in failure.
My concern about the closings is really just the symptom of a larger problem: a sense that the denomination is dying. Churches, Regions and General Church agencies at times seem to be dysfunctional. How do we help different parts of the church modernize and be ready to do mission now and not in 1958? How can the Disciples become sustainable again?
A few years ago, I wrote about the fact that it seems like the Disciples and other mainline denominations seem more interested in managing decline than seeking to be made anew:
Right now, the mainline church isn’t living up to its potential. It’s not even trying. It’s coasting on it’s past glories and learning to manage it’s decline, to slowly wind down its operations, so that when death happens it will be relatively painless.
Working with two mainline denominations, I have the opportunity to see how the once vital Mainline Protestant church works from the inside and it isn’t pretty. What it comes down to is that we aren’t trying to seek new ways of doing things in a changed age. Instead, we muddle through and try to keep from going into freefall. Our pastors and other leaders have become hospice chaplains, trying to make sure people are comfortable as we slowly collaspe and die.
I get frustrated that we so easily allow churches to close. Mainline churches sure know how to end a ministry with honor. We are so good at it because we do it so damn much.
Maybe I’m looking at this wrong, but it seems that at least in my neck of the woods, that there is no sense of joy in ministry. It seems at times that we just exist. It feels at times that people confine themselves to their little platoons and that’s it.
I try to share this feeling with others with others, but it seems no one else feels the sense of urgency to change. Maybe this is all in my head. Maybe I’m not patient enough. All of this has made me despondent. It has made it hard to preach the good news.
I seem to always be the guy that inadvertently stirs up trouble. I’m not trying to do this on purpose. But it feels at times that we Disciples have become a sad sack. We create a wake of the dead, all the while trying to put on a happy face and pretend things are okay. We seem to have given up a theology of hope for one of fatalism.
Something needs to change. Maybe the Mission First initiative is that change agent, but I fear that it will be more talk and little action from anyone. I hope I’m wrong.
I guess sometimes what I want is for someone to tell me I’m not crazy to feel the way I do. To tell me its okay to share your opinion. Someone to tell me things will be okay and you aren’t a failure at your congregation. I want to feel part of a living body of Christ.
This is only the story of one pastor. Maybe I’m the only one that feels this way. But I pray for change and have faith that things will change for the better. I’m praying for a revival on the inside and the outside, for myself and for the denomination I’ve chosen to be a part of. Come, Maranatha. Come, Holy Spirit, come.