Let’s be honest

When it comes to the future of the church, it's tempting to put our heads in the sand, writes Rebecca Gresham. Let's be honest about the decline of mainline religion — and that God is still present and active. 

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Honesty is the number one tool current church leaders can use to equip future leaders. In seminary, I was trained to serve two churches: the church in its prime from the 1950-60s and the church of the future, or the church we hoped would be the future. A handful of years later, I serve neither of these churches.

Instead, I am working in a reality that seminary did not prepare me for — the church in transition. I came into my first call excited and ready to serve the church of the future. I was ill-prepared to bring the church into a future where we are not at the center of culture. That is a much different job that requires considerably more patience and an entirely different skill set.

I suspect we might better prepare our clergy leaders of the future if we were honest about where the church stands and our abundant hope that God continues to use God’s people. Of course, we see this wishful thinking beyond seminaries. It is throughout the church. I do not believe we are purposefully deceptive about where we stand. It is something more like denial … like we cannot bear to investigate the reality in which we sit.

God hasn’t given up on us. … Let us slow down, let go of fear, and see it.

Sit through almost any church meeting and you will hear people voice a desire to grow and many theories as to why that growth is not happening: We just need young families… We just need a young pastor …. In my role as a member of my presbytery’s Committee on Ministry, I often hear about the problems facing churches, but there are rarely tangible solutions (Young families and/or a young pastor don’t often fix what is changing). Maybe the answer is we just don’t know.

It is time for many of us to speak the truth: the budget is tight, membership is declining, we are scared to lose something we hold so dear, and we do not know what the future holds. While we might like to have young families or some other “ace in the hole” type fix, none have come to fruition. What we may really need is patience, prayer, and a reminder that amid such decline and fear, God is present. God could very well be doing a new thing in our midst, calling us once again to reform. To grow into the church God desires us to be. That growth likely will not be in membership but in our own faith journeys.

God hasn’t given up on us. Speaking the truth will not chase God away but perhaps invite us into some discomfort that will be nutrient-rich for our individual and communal spiritual growth. God is working in us and through us. Let us slow down, let go of fear, and see it. The church of the future needs leaders who can navigate this and to do so we ought to start setting the example now.

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