The growth of mainline churches in the 1950's and 60's was astounding. With the growth of population--the so-called Baby Boomers--and the explosion of suburbs, mainline churches adopted a formula. The formula was simple, find an area where a new suburb development was planned, buy up some property, knock on the neighbors' doors, and, voila, a new congregation is born.
Churches became centers for neighborhood activity. Women gathered at the church for activities and their children would play on the playground. Men would gather together, build a softball team and compete against other congregation teams. Neighbors became friends. There were common goals: sanctuaries to be built, Vacation Bible Schools to be planned, food banks to be developed. The church provided a sense of community, a sense of belonging. The model thrived for a few decades.
Recently, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he envisions his social media platform will, like churches have in the past, build a sense of community among its users that will bring identity and the urge to serve. Reactions were mixed, but the fact is, Zuckerberg is right in many respects.
In the face of decline, mainline churches have doubled down on the sense of community that belonging to a congregation can bring. The UMC's slogan "Open hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors", the ELCA's "God's Work, Our Hands", TEC's "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You"are all grounded in the notion of being welcomed into a community.
So why isn't it working?
I suspect it isn't working for a couple of reasons. First of all, community isn't really that hard to build. If you have ever talked to the parents of a child involved in swimming, you know this. Swimming meets are often far apart geographically. Parents drive caravan-style to the meet. They stay in hotel rooms next to one another. They cheer for one another's children. They wait and chat for their child's heat to come. They have created a community. I have heard Furries--young adults who (for some reasons not known to me) dress up like woodland creatures and meet at hotel conference rooms--describe that part of their joy of being a Furry is the sense of "community". Community is not that hard to build and there are many, many opportunities find one.
The second reason may be that building community is not the calling of the church. The calling of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So while the church can offer praise, provide charity, and build community, these actions are always secondary to the proclamation of the Gospel. Even when Jesus prays for unity among his disciples in the Gospel of John, it occurs as concern after the call to proclaim (17:20).
If the church wants to thrive, it needs to distance itself prioritizing the notion of building communities. Mark Zuckerberg will figure out a way to build community more effectively than we ever have. Let us instead put our focus on proclaiming the gospel. I guarantee--community will come.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Thom Rainer is an author and church consultant. He also has a blog and his stuff gets frequently circulated among pastors. His last piece set me off a bit. Titled "Ten Common Sentiments Pastors Wish They Could Express", this piece reads like a whine-fest.
Here are the sentiments with my own commentary:
Here are the sentiments with my own commentary:
1. “I am struggling with depression.”
I don't wish to share my emotional health issues with you. I might to let you know that you are not alone in your suffering, but I have a doctor that I talk about these things with.
2. “Don’t criticize me right before or after I preach.”
This says a lot more about you than me. But really, pastors should be made of sterner stuff. This job can be very challenging at times. But I think about Paul telling them all he endured for the gospel--5 times he got the lash. Three times the rod. (2 Cor 11). A pastor with a delicate ego is in for a short miserable ministry.
3. “I worry about my family in the church fishbowl.”
Pretty legit, but I also know that it is absurd to think anyone will protect them from this but me. That's my job as a parent and husband. And I'll do it well when I need to. If you think I won't, try me.
4. “I wish the ‘healthy’ church members in our church would stand up to the bullies and critics.”
Shockingly, churches are filled with people. You know, the sinful kind. If your joy in serving is going to be limited to only the times when people do as they ought, ordained ministry is probably not going to be your bag.
5. “Pray for me; I need it.”
This one is true. If you aren't praying for your pastor, you are doing the whole Christian-thing wrong.
6. "I don’t know if we can pay our personal bills.”
Yes, I know some pastors are underpaid. Thankfully, I'm not one. And most pastors I know aren't. But as many pastors as I know that ARE underpaid, I know just as many that are lousy financial planners and would be the sort who have trouble paying personal bills regardless of pay.
7. “I am so tired of attending mundane meetings.”
Name a career that doesn't have this complaint. Name one. Moreover, when the discussion turns to "should we have decaf as well as regular coffee at the bible study" that is a perfect time for a pastor to excuse himself or herself saying, "ok, I think you all can take it from here". Because they can, you know. Give them a chance.
8. “Don’t ask me to do something right before I preach.”
You can. I'm just going to forget it. That's on you, because I've told you.
9; “I can’t keep up with all the changes in culture and churches.”
No you can't. No one can. So don't. Problem solved.
10. “It hurts me deeply when we lose a church member.”
Yeah. I take it personally. But then I remember its not all about me.
I asked a seminarian why he was becoming a pastor. He said people always told him he would make a good pastor because he was "nice". I don't know where this guy is now, but I doubt he made it in the pastorate very long. This calling can be tough. Like any calling, it has it down sides. You have to have a strong enough ego that you don't crumple under the lightest of criticism. You have to be humble enough to know that you do things now and again worthy of criticism. You have to forgive a lot of people that aren't asking for forgiveness. You have to ask people to forgive you.
I love being a pastor. But it's not for wimps.