Monday, May 25, 2009

Mission and Management

As the program year winds down, I'm feeling a bit different about church life and ministry. In years past there was the sense of having gotten through the program year and the anticipation of both taking a break from the sometimes frenetic pace of church life and planning for a Fall filled with possibilities. This year, owing primarily to the current economic climate but also to the ongoing challenges of connecting with a culture in transition, there is a palpable sense of unease as we enter summer. What does the future hold? How can we survive, much less thrive, in a time of tight budgets and only a trickle of newcomers to renew both our budget and sense of mission?

In the last 24 hours I've received information relating to both of those issues. In the latest update from The Barna Group, they discuss what mission and ministry looks like in the 21st century with the various "tribes" that they identify, including the "Casual Christians" they discuss. At the same time, I received the latest from the Alban Institute talking about different ways of viewing budgets. I can identify with both of these articles!

The biggest challenge for the church in 2009 would seem to be being about the work of mission and ministry in a culture that supports neither and in the midst of shrinking congregations and even more quickly shrinking budgets. The biggest challenge for me in leading a congregation is that many members seem perfectly happy with their level of spiritual maturity and their level of ministry to the community around them. What they are not happy with is the fact that "being church" seems to take more and more money. At the same time, nearly half the members of that surrounding community either have no experience whatsoever of church or just enough experience to know what they don't want to go back. They may not exactly be happy with their lives, but the notion that the answers to their unspoken (and perhaps even unacknowledged) questions lie with the church has either not even crossed their minds or, if it has, has been dismissed as soon as it did so.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a great number of churches that are content to simply wind down, keep doing what they're doing, and seek some magic solution even as they pine away for the good times of the past. It also leaves a gigantic void of spiritual need that might well be filled with churches who are willing to provide an accessible "spiritual stimulus" in the world by first knowing themselves to be in need of such a thing. If we can awaken what is referred to in the Baptismal service as an "inquiring and discerning heart" in the people of our congregations, we can then invite others on this journey of discovery. However, if we simply more strdently proclaim that we have the answer and if these poor misguided folks would just get out of bed on Sunday morning and come to church to find it, we will largely wait in vain for the door to be knocked down by the rush of newcomers.

So perhaps it's time to put our money where our ministry is and invite others to join us on the journey. Perhaps more now than at any time in the last 50 years we need to put aside fear and the natural impulse to preserve dwindling resources and look into a world in desperate physical and spiritual need and take some risks for God, both financially and spiritually. Of course, it is easy to blog about that and much more difficult to actually do it!

1 comment:

King of Peace said...

The Gospel involves risk.

To write that is to immediately make folks defensive about stewardship and being prudent and so on. And it is true that we should be wise and thoughtful, but we should also be prayerful, see where God is leading and take those steps of faith in that Godward direction. And this involves risk.