Renewing the Church for the Next Generation is the title of a workshop my dad Jim and I are leading as a part of the Missouri Conference United Methodist Men’s Retreat this weekend. As a part of my part of the workshop, I will be discussing two prevalent attitudes I have seen in the church with regard to that most forbidding ecclesial topic: CHANGE.
Attitude number one is called, “We’re Not Changing.” This is the attitude that leads people to say creativity-stifling things like, “Because we have always done it that way” and its corollary, “Because we have never tried it that way before.” Many church people love the way they worship, do Sunday School, church committees, and the like, and they are unwilling to change any of it, or at best cannot see that a change is possible or desirable. Unwillingness to risk a change frequently leads to the lament that goes, “Why aren’t there more young people in our church?” (i.e. “How can we get them to be like us?) This is the wrong question to ask. The only possible way to address this question stagnates a church, because it means trying to figure out how to somehow get young people to enjoy/appreciate/buy in to the status quo, and more often than not, that ain’t happening.
Attitude number two is called, “Change or Die.” According to this perspective, the church must change in order to keep itself from dying off. A catch phrase of this attitude is, “The church is one generation away from extinction.” Many church people expend large amounts of time and energy wringing their hands about the low number of younger people in the pews, and frequently implement haphazard changes in order to remedy that situation. But because those changes are motivated by self-preservation alone, they are not the long-term, comprehensive types of changes that are called for. It can result in a kind of “change for change’s sake” mentality that creates a frenetic atmosphere in which the church’s ministry is disjointed and flimsy, with the church doing whatever it takes to please people so that they will stick around for a while.
The third attitude, the way I will offer as my preferred way, is called, “Change as an Act of Faith.” This way affirms both a desire to be faithful to the calling of disciple-making, and also the desire to change the way things happen in order to more fully communicate with new generations of people. The underlying idea is that, in order to stay faithful to God’s call, we must change. And in the process of changing, we will be reaching new generations for the sake of Christ. We are not changing in order to keep ourselves alive, though. There ought to be no hint of narcissism in the church’s evangelism ministries. The focus is God. We are changing because God has called us to tell the story, and in order to tell the story, we have to translate it in such a way that it can be understood.
So, that’s a smattering of what I’ll be sharing this weekend with the United Methodist Men of the Missouri Conference. I intend it to set the stage for discussion of some more tangible topics. What do you think? Is it a message worth sharing? Would you change anything? All comments welcome …