First installment of:
R³ (Radical Religious Ramblings)
This bit of ‘bloggery’ is intended to provide a forum to consider those things that ‘polite religious folks’ often do not wish to go near. Posted here are various musings on the current state of the institutional church from the perspective of a small town, small church pastor committed to finding the promised ‘new wine’ of the Spirit and of God’s presence among us. Please feel free to comment and I will seek to keep the conversation going with you.
For starters I would like to consider what I have long termed ‘survival faith’. Though not a formal term, what I am referring to when I say ‘survival faith’ is a faith practice and understanding that is held by many churches that often finds them focused solely on finding ways to carry on with existing ministry commitments and within existing resources and income. To think solely within the box in which they find themselves, within their buildings, within their worship and ministry styles, and within their current understanding of the nature of God. Any movement towards stretching or expanding these existing parameters is discouraged strongly.
And sadly for many churches this self-contained box gets smaller and smaller as institutional needs begin to outstrip resources and as membership both ages and declines. And unfortunately a point is often reached where the decision is finally made to recognize what seems to be inevitable and to close the church down, one more house of God standing lifeless, unused, and alone in the community.
And I struggle with ‘survival faith’ because I do not believe that it is a foregone conclusion that all small churches will someday soon close down and be forgotten. I do believe that the church as a whole, no matter what size it is or how financially secure it is, is seriously in need of new life and purpose but that far too many look only to the past for answers rather than to imagine that God is actually reaching out with new answers, new ways to imagine the purpose and work of the incoming kingdom (which at least in the teachings of Jesus is available here and now!).
I also believe that the church as a whole needs to repent of much of her past history that was exclusionary and inflexible, that she needs instead to look for ways in which God is still actively at work in our midst and in the community and to seek out ways to reengage with the ministry needs of this present moment – in these times – and with all the socially difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves.
That said, I feel very positive about the future of our own small church and about our future here. And that is because I see evidence of a willingness to look farther out in seeking God’s will, to venture into places unfamiliar in search of ways to participate in works of holiness – with others and within the community at large. If we are truly honest and if we look deep within our souls I believe we will find that we are much more open than our larger institutional church history and accepted understanding of God and God’s ways would suggest.
…I believe that we all feel that God is loving far more than God is vengeful or wrathful
…I believe that we all feel that everyone, no matter what, is capable of being forgiven and embraced by our Lord Jesus
..I believe that as a church we are truly open to anyone and everyone whom the Spirit sends our way, and that the flexibility and openness of our love for one another is large enough to include absolutely everyone who even ventures near
…I believe we know right from wrong, but also that we know that God and God’s ways are greater than our knowledge of the rightness or wrongness of any particular situation or even the behavior of any particular person
…I believe that the Spirit of God is active and alive within our midst and that God desires to be a part of our deliberations and our dreams for the future
…I believe that the blessings that follow after a people committed not to fear but to following after the winds of the Spirit are so far beyond our current hopes and even our wildest imaginations.
…For we are a people, like all churches I imagine, who have been called to minister in the name of our Lord Jesus and to work towards the fulfillment of God’s good will within our community, to work towards the salvation not only of our own individual selves but of our community as well
…And, we are first and foremost a people of God, a people gathered around a common core of belief that God is loving and that we are to follow in the footsteps of the one who came to show us the way
…But we have also been entrusted with the care of our community itself, with the sobering call to pray ourselves into a position wherein we are able to hear and to see, to understand and to act on the needs of our community as they are presented to us through the voice and direction of the Holy Spirit.
So…somehow everything we do is important…and somehow everything that needs doing is important as well…and I for one believe, that somehow in seeking to center our life and ministry in the winds of the Spirit and the needs of our community we will find that the Lord is faithful to provide for all that is needed to fulfil that holy call.
…for it is not about surviving…but rather thriving…