Control freaks

Control. It may be what finishes off Mainline churches.


I see lots of people trying to control the present in our churches so that the future, which they fear, is not so scary and unknown. For such people, change is the enemy.


Part of me sympathizes with them. Change, indeed, can be alarming. So I have to keep reminding myself that love casts out fear and that if Mainline churches ultimately can’t accommodate change, they’ll die.


We Presbyterians once more are facing the challenge to change, using the campaign to create 1,001 new worshiping communities in the next 10 years.


Already I can hear objections from folks I know and love within my own congregation. They go something like this:


Why don’t the people thinking about joining one of these new groups just join us here?”


If we help create such groups they’ll draw away membership from us.”


And on and on.




I’m not positive that the new 1,001 movement will produce the results its proponents hope for. But these dynamic kinds of small communities are springing up in some places almost spontaneously, and we’d be foolish as a denomination not to find out what’s going on with them and figure out if we can be part of this movement.


Maybe if we help them come to life they will, in turn, help our traditional congregations come back to life.


I have an old friend in my congregation who over the years has regularly challenged me to consider things I’d never considered, to answer prickly questions, to defend the hope within me. I’ve sometimes disagreed with him about this or that but the tension has been wonderfully creative.


Recently, however, he confessed to me that he’s reached the point in his life when he simply can’t stomach change of any kind: “Give me the status quo,” he said.


I empathize with his fatigue, given the astonishing speed of change in nearly all aspects of our lives – even (and maybe especially) for folks past retirement age. But I also recognize in his commitment to the status quo not just an abandonment of hope but also a perhaps-unintended willingness to stand in the way and block the future toward which God is trying to draw the church.


I’m not suggesting we throw in with every new idea that comes along, no matter how quirky. But if we can’t be open to such new ideas as creating 1,001 (obviously an arbitrary, if sexy, number) new worshiping communities, we may be deciding to move the church not into an assisted-living but an assisted-dying facility.


A couple of months ago I spoke to a congregational training event for the Minnesota Valleys Presbytery, urging church leaders to understand how the context in which they operate today is much different from just 50 years ago. Once we begin to see that in detail, we will understand why we need to be willing not to control the present but to consider such new ideas as 1,001 new worshiping communities.b-tammeus.jpg


Well, unless we just want to snooze into death.


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