This week, many of my friends received word that because of financial shortfalls due to a variety of factors (less investment income than anticipated, reduced giving, a graying population), their jobs were being eliminated. I know–this happens in businesses.
But this hurt even more because their positions weren’t just in a business. They were church positions–ministerial positions and support positions. The people in these positions have seen what they do as more than just a job; it’s been a ministry. Some of them will retire; others will (hopefully) be able to find other avenues where their giftedness can continue to be shared. But others, I’m afraid, may find themselves bitter and scarred. I know how that feels–I’ve been there, and only by the grace of God was I able to emerge on the other side.
My faith tradition isn’t unique in this challenge. There are others who are struggling with similar problems.
But it does raise the question…what is the future of the church?
I suppose in many ways it depends on how we define “church.” If we’re talking about hierarchical structures with strong organizations and institutions, I think there are going to be significant changes. Some of them I will undoubtedly mourn, but others can be exciting.
What is the church? Is it a group of people whose beliefs are pretty homogeneous? who meet together in a building once or twice a week and then go their separate ways? whose emphasis is on meeting budgets and using the most recent program emphasis that their denomination has created?
Or is it something more?
What if we began to see “church” more as a verb rather than a noun? What if we worried less about having the right beliefs and more about doing the right actions? Actions that protected the vulnerable among us…that made sure that everyone had access to food, shelter, clothing, and education…that worked towards restorative justice instead of harsh punishment? What if we focused on the things we have in common instead of the differences that separate us? What if we celebrated our diversity instead of fearing it?
In my own faith tradition, I think there will still need to be some institutional organization simply because we are a worldwide body rather than simply a group of congregations loosely knit together. But I think we will have to find new ways to organize that will speak to a world that often turns aside from denominational labels because of the ways in which many have been abused and marginalized by those who claim to be acting on behalf of a church.
I believe that there is value in meeting together with others whose spiritual journeys are similar to my own. We speak a similar language and can support each other in valuable ways.
But there is also value in meeting together with others whose spiritual journeys follow a different route from my own. That helps me to be reminded that what I think I know about the One who created all of us is incomplete. We can learn from each other.
I think that something has to happen. We cannot go on the way we are…for many reasons. And perhaps rethinking what “church” is will help those of us who follow the one called Jesus Christ to reclaim the foundation he laid…the foundation of love for all of God’s creation.