The church staff of the congregation I serve hears a lot of feedback, as do I. By far, the two most common themes in this feedback are:
“I do not like the direction the church is moving.”
“I like the direction the church is moving but it is not moving fast enough.”
For brevity’s sake, I will summarize the two positions as “Please Stop” and “Go Faster.”
So it goes.
It is noteworthy that we hardly ever hear from people who say “I like the direction the church is moving and am perfectly content with the pace at which it is moving there.”
So it goes.
I have a bit of advice for you, if you’d hear me. When you are offering feedback about “the direction the church is moving,” whether that feedback is offered to me, to a church staff member, to another pastor, or to anyone, please be specific. Please say exactly what you mean by “the direction the church is moving.”
For the record, here’s what I mean when I say “the direction the church is moving.” I mean “closer to God.”
I mean in the direction of love. I mean along the way of sanctification. I mean our cooperation with God’s grace that draws us ever closer to being perfected in love in this lifetime. I mean towards fuller inclusion. I mean Exodus, liberation, a direction that takes us toward the Promised Land. I mean drawing the circle wider, ever wider. I mean along the arc of the moral universe, bending inexorably toward justice. I mean the direction of the all-encompassing Gospel of Jesus Christ. I mean outward into the world as ambassadors of reconciliation. When I say “the direction the church is moving” I mean the direction of the Holy Spirit, discerned and embodied in an intentional community of people, all of whom are just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got.
And if I am serious about moving that direction, I believe that any and all forms of evil, injustice, and oppression must be named so that they can be removed from the way. That’s hard to say, because it includes removing the obstacles that exist within me, also.
So, whether you are a “please stop” person or a “go faster” person, I hope you will be very specific the next time you talk with someone about “the direction the church is moving.” And specifically, if you are in the “please stop” camp and the “direction” you are referring to means working to include more people more fully in the life of the church, please be very specific about what you believe the consequences of that work will be.
Go deeper than just, “I don’t like this.” Go deeper than just, “It breaks the denomination’s rules.” Say out loud what you believe will happen if your beloved sibling in Christ who happens to be gay is allowed to get married in your church. Say out loud what you believe the theological implications are if your dear neighbor whom you love and who is called to ordination and who also happens to be gay is allowed to be ordained.
Be specific. If you really think it’s wrong, claim it. Tell me exactly why you believe that working to truly extend God’s love and grace to all people, rather than just sitting around and talking about it all the time, is not the right direction for the church to go.
I am not being sarcastic. It sounds kind of like I am, but I’m really not. I truly value all perspectives. And if you have a perspective to share, I am inviting you to share it with me. “Please stop” or “go faster,” either one. Don’t make a vague reference to “the direction of the church.” Tell me. I want to listen. I promise I will hear you. I may not change my mind about “the direction of the church” or the pace at which we are moving, but I promise I will hear you.