Tuesday, May 26, 2015

God's Plan and the Decline of the Church

Does God have a plan for us today? And exactly how detailed does that plan get? Did God plan for me to eat cantaloupe this morning for breakfast? Or was it enough that I ate a healthy breakfast? Or that I simply had something to eat at all? Or maybe God’s plan is more of a “big picture” kind of plan that is not so much involved with day-to-day logistics?

Speaking of plans, a recent study released by the Pew Research Center paints a gloomy picture of the future of the church. Numerical decline is happening in every denomination across the board, and dire predictions are being heard from church leaders about the future viability of the church.

So, does God have a plan here? Is the decline of the church opposed to God’s plan and therefore we should strive against it and work to reverse it? Or is the decline of the church actually a part of God’s plan and something new is now happening all around us, something we should not oppose but rather support and encourage?

It reminds me of Ezekiel 37, where God shows the prophet the valley filled with dry bones and asks, “Mortal, can these bones live?” God actually interprets the vision for Ezekiel, telling him that “these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’” In other words, they just got their Pew Research Center Report.

The modern church has kind of felt like a valley of dry bones ever since we started obsessing over our declining numbers. All dried up. Hopeless. Isolated. Irrelevant. Dead.

What’s the plan here, God?

Prophesy to the bones! Tell them to listen up! God is going to open up our graves! Do you believe it? Prophesy to the breath! God is going to breathe life into the deadest and driest of us once again, and we will live! THAT’S the plan here!

Doesn’t make a bit of sense, does it? Well neither does resurrection. And that plan seems to be working out pretty well.

Jeremiah 29:11 is an intriguing Bible verse - “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” So maybe that’s a good starting point. Whatever God’s plan looks like, it is not going to cause harm; God’s plan is for the “welfare” of God’s people.

And wouldn’t you know, the Hebrew word that is translated here as “welfare” is actually shalom, a word that connotes completeness, safety, health, and peace.

Yes, God has a plan for us, and we call that plan “shalom.” God’s plan is life. God’s plan is resurrection. God’s plan opens up graves, rattles dry bones, stretches sinew and skin over newly assembled skeletons, and breathes new life into dead, dry structures.

I am confident in the future that God has in store for the church. It is going to be amazing, unlike anything we’ve ever encountered before. It is going to be joyous and gracious and just. Love will abound and we will be at peace. It will be shalom.

And here’s the thing … there’s no reason we can’t go ahead and start doing all that stuff right now. You know, joy and grace and justice and love. And shalom. Lots and lots of shalom.

The bones are already rattling. I think I even feel a breeze…


KC Bob said...

A few thoughts ...

1) God's plan is to conform us into his image.

2) The decline in church attendance is not necessarily a decline in the number of Christians.

Bill said...

I share your optimism, even though I don't know exactly how the change will occur or what the end-result will look like. The decline in institutions and organizations (what we call "church") may spark a revival and awaken yearnings for God, leading to the emergence of a community of believers ("the Church") that is stronger and more vigorous than ever. It's an exciting time to be alive.