In a sermon I preached a few weeks ago I joked about how Tony Robinson, author of our Study Group’s go-to text, Transforming Congregational Culture, urges church leaders to use a lot of repetition in getting their vision across. As I said at the time, I think I’ve done that pretty darn effectively!!!
A week before Christmas, the Study Group completed Robinson’s book and is now about to enter phase 2, which involves developing a report to transmit to you, the congregation. Phase 2 also will involve the development of a process for sharing our learnings.
In phase 3, the actual presentation, we envision opportunities for discussion that include reporting not just to the congregation as a whole, but to our boards and committees. Additionally, we are considering “cottage meetings,” where a relatively small group meets in someone’s home. The idea is that in and through these various forums, everybody will have an opportunity to hear something of the Study Group’s learnings and have an opportunity to contribute to the conversation.
The underlying thesis of Robinson’s book, in the Cliff Notes version, presumes that the mainline Protestant churches (of whom we are one) are suffering from the failure to adequately recognize that the culture most of us grew up in has changed.
This change, among other things, has left the mainline churches bewilderingly “disestablished,” as the culture moves further and further toward a secular, non-religious understanding of life. Gone is the “golden era” of the fifties and early sixties when the church and wider culture worked together “hand in glove.”
One of the many implications of this change is that, unlike in the past, we no longer “corner the market” with respect to community service. If somebody wants to help the disadvantaged, there are any number of secular organizations that effectively do that. State and federal governments, for instance, do much of the work churches at one time performed almost exclusively. Similarly, nowadays, the attempt to improve the world by means of political and social action doesn’t necessarily require church membership either.
For Robinson, what the church lost over the years in pursuing these admittedly worthy goals was its long-established focus on “making disciples.” The reason is that it came to rely far too heavily on the wider culture to support and advance gospel values. In the America of 2014, such reliance can no longer be assumed.
In the end, the one thing the church offers that no other organization does is religion! As odd as this may sound, in our headlong rush to transform the world in tandem with the culture, we forgot the centrality of creating spiritually, theologically transformed lives. And such personal transformation is precisely what our world so desperately hungers for, whether it realizes it or not.
The basic upshot, then, is this: that while the church today is indeed experiencing a crisis of sorts, this same crisis that offers great opportunity – to reach an increasingly confused and disoriented world with the life-affirming, life-transforming message of Jesus Christ. No more meaningful work is possible, nor is any as satisfying.
Grace and peace,
Thomas C. Leinbach, Pastor