When it comes to being the church and being so in a way that is life-giving and Christ-centered, I circle around the thought "Why aren't we there yet?" time and again. What will it take for us to get out of our own way? I have come to realize that it is church renewal that is needed across the vast majority of churches. So many are sort of stuck as they vision with an underlying ulterior motive for reclaiming past experiences. Whatever the roots that lead to past thriving, seems to live in good feelings through relived moments more like that of visiting a good hangout spot with friend than formative hub for faithful living or more nostalgic desires for others to know what we knew than relevant happenings to people within and outside of the church, those we are meant to build relationships with and serve.
I do not shy away from the reality that some of our churches need to find their grace-filled ends so that something new may be planted. Yet I wonder if even these churches still have hope. Could it be possible for the body as a whole to come together in such intentional and meaningful ways that the future is actually brighter rather than a long lost cause? Honestly, it may be the optimistic and hopeful nature of my being, but I do think it is possible. I believe that any and every church with a heart for Christ and a willingness to do what it takes can be part of God's preferred future. Yet, I also know that it will take more than me in pastoral ministry for a church to come to know this for themselves. It will take the people trusting God enough and believing in themselves enough for renewal, willing to die to self to then be raised up by the Spirit.
Too often I hear the language of the "dying church" and it always strikes me as presumptive. Attendance and giving metrics are the main factors that are pointed to as indicators of a church's life and sustainability. When these numbers are low then the label becomes all the more repeated until it becomes the reality. Just as some might say there is power in positive thinking, so I believe there is power in negative speaking. This kind of dying is not the divine renewal type of dying that is spoken into these churches. It is a mark on the church as a washed up and dried out place that has little left to give the world because it has dwindled to something often unrecognizable in the shadow of it's former self. But that is just it, the old must pass away for the new to be born. And if we can remember that this is not a bad thing then we can do that dying within ourselves for the sake of what is to come rather than assuming that the only dying that counts in the measure of our churches is that which is reflected in the closure of a church. How I wish that many didn't succumb to the belief that it is only then that something good can happen, when someone else can come along and start a new ministry or turn the property into something else entirely that has more staying power and economic benefit.
When I wonder "Why aren't we there yet?" it is because I am hyper aware of ministries who's mission is to renew the church, to make it better for the sake of God's kingdom, to help it become a full, diverse, and thriving body on a mission for Christ. I had been deeply invested in one such ministry and time and gain felt the drain and pain that this ministry brought into my heart and mind. Yet, I kept persisting because I believed deeply so in it's mission to "raise up prophetic and spiritual leaders." Even now, as I know some are heartened by its work and others are still rooted and passionate about it, I have been harmed so many times that I now shutter at the thought of investing myself in it too much if at all at times.
So here I sit, and here I work. I have not given up on the full mission and that particular phrase that rings in my mind oh so often. But, I recognize that this may not be where I need to invest myself if I am to do what I have been called to do in ministry, to help renew the church and more specifically the people that make up the church.
It would be wrong to brush an entire group with a stigma as a whole because it is never everyone in it that makes it what it is in one person's experience of it. Thus, while some may already know, if you know me well enough, I haven't names names here. The fact is there are many individuals of the organization I have on my mind who have been light bearing gifts to me over the years and are part of why I stand today to continue the work of church renewal through Cross Vocational. For what I need to do, the inertia of the old is too much to work through and overcome. Sometimes, in order to do our next right and good thing, we have to step out on faith in a direction and a path not blazed by someone else, we need to do something distinct from what had been for the sake of what will be. Much like many in the church who have decided to come back or decided not to leave through the rough patches, I am committed to the mission of renewal and whatever shape it will take.
It is hard to go against the grain when the jagged end you are up against is traditions and assumptions or expectations of others. But that is what we have signed up for as Christians. We are not here to be comfortable and set in our ways, to work with leaders who aren't ready to take the next bold steps forward. Sometimes we just need a little help seeing this reality so that we can join the movement of Christ that was put in motion long before any of us was born.
So, in the work of making being Christian powerfully simple, Cross Vocational is my effort to help renew the church, train up leaders of all ages, and transform the way we think about ourselves. The moment we can let go of the things we hold on to and die to self is the moment we will find our way toward God's preferred future. Prayerfully, as individuals and communities, we won't take too long to collectively come to this realization. Prayerfully, the work of Cross Vocational will help bridge the gap between what was and what will be for many who choose to invest in themselves and their faith communities with us as a supportive and guiding resources.
I fully believe that if we can trust in God, each and every member no matter the faith community, and walk boldly together toward whatever is next, then each and every church can and will be renewed to fulfill the missional work of Christ.