But let the (I hope prayerful) hubris begin. We are on our way, and our pastor, who may regret this, has asked me to chair the members’ task force that will oversee the process of working with a professional planner.
If Landon Whitsitt, vice-moderator of the General Assembly, is right in his new book, “Open Source Church“, that we need a “church that anyone can edit,” then our planning process must be open and collaborative.
(Yes, I could argue with Landon about the “anyone” part. I frankly don’t want Fred Phelps or Terry Jones editing any part of the church, but I get his point and it’s a good one.)
Being open means we will have to consider all kinds of ideas (even some of my outlandish ones) from all corners of our theologically diverse congregation. It means people in the pews will need to know what’s happening as we go through this process. It means we’ll need to think outside our walls, our denomination, even our faith so we can find new ways of doing things that will help introduce people to Jesus Christ, who can transform their lives.
But our planning work also must show deep respect for our congregation’s 146-year history and the major ministry themes that have marked us. Respect, however, does not mean that we cannot and should not find new ways of being faithful people for our time and place.
Indeed, if we don’t find those new ways — and I bet this is true of your congregation, too — we’re as good as dead. That’s because my congregation (and our denomination) is at a crossroads. One road leads to inevitable demise. The other leads to life. One road is easy. The other is hard. But if we don’t map out a different future, the future none of us wants to see will arrive sooner than we think, and God will find other partners to work with on down the road.
Will we get all of this right? Of course not. But guided by the Holy Spirit and by new and renewed lay and clergy leadership, we will do our best and remain flexible about details, all the while being committed to the living God, who is up ahead of us imagining our new life together.
This process is a bit scary. I know what’s at stake and what the long-term consequences of failure will be. Will we have enough energy, intelligence, imagination and love to produce a living document that can help us find our way into the future toward which God wants to draw us?
Well, I hope and pray so. I just know that if we don’t do this kind of work, opening ourselves up to the creative leading of the restless Spirit of God, we may as well shut down now. We’ll be of so little use as to be irrelevant.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at [email protected].