Too often, we talk about change, then we talk about what we have to do to negate the impact of that change. So we talk about the church shrinking, and then we talk about how to stop it. It seems that much of our conversation is about reversing or stopping the changes that we can see coming. All of us have our favourite theory about how to do that: whether it’s returning to orthodoxy, recovering forgotten traditions, being more inclusive, being more progressive, or simply changing the music in worship, we’ve all got a favourite.
This is understandable, both because change is hard, and because a shrinking church isn’t a good thing. The problem is, is leaves us being reactive and sometimes even reactionary. It might be time to simply acknowledge that none of our favourite methods will reverse or stop the change we see coming. Further, no one else’s favourites will either.
I’m pretty convinced that we have to start from a place of acceptance that a form of death is coming. We need to stop saying “change is coming, but…”
It’s coming. It’s here.
There is nothing that can be done to stop it or avoid it. If we face that together, we can really start talking about new life. New life for the church, new life for ourselves, and new life for the world.
Because the world needs the Church. There are fewer people saying that than there used to be, but it’s no less true. The world needs a committed group of people who are seeking to love like Jesus loved us. Don’t misunderstand me, this doesn’t mean that we should strip away our traditions and theology: what it means is something that sounds really simple.
It means we need to be more like Jesus. You, me, and every single person who goes to church and identifies as a Christian needs to be more like the Jesus we follow.
That’s it. That’s all. No favourite strategy for growth, no winning theological argument, no choosing sides. Just loving like Jesus did. Loving inconveniently, sacrificially, and especially those who are hard to love and who don’t love us.
This, by the way, is not an easy answer. It will take discipline in small and large ways. It will be a choice we make on days when we feel anything but loving. It will require hard work, grief, and loss. It will require turning to God in prayer daily and in every moment. It will wound our hearts and open our souls. This is the far harder way and it is the narrower way.
It is the path that Jesus walked. It’s the only path the church has ever been called to follow and the path down which the Spirit is beckoning.