The Church is considered a vital place for many reasons. Among many names, we are called the “Body of Christ”, the “Bride of Christ”, the “hands and feet of Christ”, the “Community of God”, and the “People of God”. Because the Church is comprised of people, then WE are the Church. As the Church, I often wonder if we truly know what our purpose is. I look around at the state of decline in the Protestant Church, the clergy abuse and money issues in the Catholic Church, the division that exists within and among religious groups and I wonder what is the purpose for the Church?
Now, being that I am clergy, I have an advantage in this because I do know the ultimate purpose of the Church and that’s what keeps me inspired, but if I were an outsider, or someone who didn’t grow up with a deep connection to God and love for the Church, I’d be inclined to look at the media, look at the actions of those in the Church, and determine that the chaos and division in the Church is no different than the chaos and division in the world around the Church. And I wouldn’t be compelled to attend a Church based on that conclusion. Because I am clergy and because I have a deep love for the Church, I have faith in the future of the Church; however, I must recommend that the Church reconsider its purpose and function in the world for the 5 reasons below:
1. The Church isn’t very welcoming.
Every church believes they are welcoming to all but that’s not reality. You may not be welcomed in a church if you are LGBTQ; you may not be welcomed in a church if you are homeless or don’t make a lot of money; you may not be welcomed in a church if you grew up in a different denomination; you may not be welcomed in a church if you’re of a different racial group than the majority of the people who attend; you may not be welcomed in a church if your primary method of communication is online; and you may not be welcomed in a church if the building is not physically accessible to you.
2. Burnout is at the top of the list for most clergy.
The one thing that is feared across the board is upsetting the wrong people so many clergy take on responsibilities they shouldn’t or they put up with being mistreated on a regular basis by well-meaning people out of fear of losing people, losing money, losing credibility, or simply just losing. What this does is add to the list of reasons why burnout is a possibility and why pastors leave or become ill. You add to the plate juggling many hats, answering to Conference and Association officials, shoveling the snow, painting the Sunday School rooms, and balancing your own relationships and you have a tightrope walker juggling water balloons. Pastors get hired to be vision casters but often times they become managers, caretakers, or troubleshooters in communities that are more concerned with the maintenance of the people inside the church instead of working to transform people through the church.
3. Church has become a business.
Mirroring our economically stratified society, the Church has become about the haves and the have-nots and the viability of a church is determined by membership benchmarks and a bottom line. No matter that lives are transformed, the two questions asked are: did you have a big crowd on Sunday and how much money did you bring in? The ‘business’ of the Church is one of many factors leading to the rate of decline in many denominations and contributing to the rise of alternative ministry models such as cell churches, online churches, house churches, and small group ministry models. Since the way that church is happening for people is changing rapidly, the way that viability and sustainability is measured must also change.
4. Mission and charity work are seasonal and optional.
The role of the Church is to literally be the hands and feet of God in the world…Christ in action. Everything the Church does should build up, inspire, and empower their communities so that their communities will be empowered to live whole, active lives. Often times, a church does its outreach and charity work around major holidays or twice a year on Spring break and during the summer. Joining faith and action as a regular part of being the Church will ensure the longevity of the Church, keep the Church relevant in the 21st century, and help to create a more just and sustainable world for all.
5. Young people are considered the future of the Church.
Words like vitality and innovation are often associated with young people. As a result, projects and programs are established with the purpose of attracting young people into the Church in order for them to inherit the Church but what this does is cause division and resentment between the older and younger members of the Church. Vitality and innovation have no age limitations; we all possess dynamic gifts, skills and abilities that can be used to advance the Church as a powerful community for God. As the Church we are one body with many members and each member has a specific function that makes them unique no matter how old they are.
The future of the Church can be diverse, ecumenical, multicultural, intergenerational, vibrant, and spiritually transformative…if we open ourselves up to these realities.