I get the impression those of us who are leaders of Mainline Churches are either defensive or in denial. The folks in denial fall into to camps. Those who think that there's really not a big problem and if we would just keep doing things the way we always have, or go back the the way we used to do things, it will all be fine. The other folks are doing things differently and are experiencing some success and so they believe they can buck the trend. Those are they type that tend to put the rest of us a little on the defensive. If they can buck the trends it must mean that the fact I'm not is because I'm not as clever, charismatic, hardworking, spiritual, hip, or whatever, as they are.
The truth is, it's not about us leaders. I was up to Luther Seminary for their Mid Winter Convocation this week. The topic was the one we all don't want to think about but we know we should so when we do it just makes us feel depressed, frustrated and defensive again. You know. The future of the church.
This time although I was frustrated at times, I did not come away depressed or defensive. I came away thinking. And I'm still thinking. The speakers were Diana Butler Bass who has a new book coming out which I've ordered already. Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
She started out saying something very helpful. She talked about the difference between Climate and Weather. Climate is the big picture. Weather is the conditions you are experiencing right now. Most church leaders look out the window, see the weather and and assume that's what's going on all over. So those leaders who are experiencing a little growth and think they've bucked the trends are like those people who see that it's snowing and snort "Global warming, hah!" She even admitted her book Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith was more about weather and she received a lot of pushback about that because people complained it was too optimistic. And I confess I have the book and never finished it because it made me depressed and and defensive because her weather was sunny and mine is dismal.
The trend is not looking good for the Christian church. Not just the Mainline either, the Evangelicals are starting to experience the same decline.
The other speaker was Andrew Root. He's very funny. He spoke about how the world is changing and how growing up in a world of screens and media changes where we find our identity, how we think and relate to each other and reality itself. It was very interesting.
But like most of these things, most of the time spent was hearing the problem defined and explained. That's important. You have to understand the problem, the challenge, the climate. But after awhile it began to wear on me. BUT WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT???
I don't think anybody knows. Both Diane and Andrew spent a little time on that. Andrew spoke of the story of Jacob and opening the church to be a place where people can come to struggle with God. A place where we are not afraid to show that this struggle will leave us with a limp. When speaking how we have replaced reality with images (a presentation totally based on the French philosopher Baudrillard) he concluded that the church needs to be the place that speaks of what is real - the cross. "The cross stands at the place between possibility and nothingness"
Well that sounds very nice in a presentation but what does it look like? What does it mean? How do we do that? And will it really make any difference?
Maybe the truth is there is nothing we can do about the climate. Maybe we just have to deal with the weather, understanding the weather is not the climate. Keep it real. Preach the Gospel. Administer the sacraments. Be honest about the struggle. Remember it's not about you.