Welcome back. We’ve come to my third and final musing on church. Drawing conclusions are hard, but I’ll do my best.
Remember that picture in the previous blog? If you didn't see it, you can find it here. That was my grandparents’ farmhouse. My grandmother was born in that house. So was my dad. There is more than a hundred years of family history there. My parents and I used to drive hundreds of miles to visit Grandma and Grandpa Carr at that house most every summer and winter through my youth. My nose would be against the car window for the last 30 miles in anticipation of spotting the farm lights on the horizon.
By the time I was around, my grandfather wasn’t actively farming. Remnants of old barns and chicken coops remained but I had to just use my imagination. All the same, this was my happy place. I donned my overalls first thing in the morning and followed my grandpa out the door to see what kind of fun we might get into and to play farmer for the day. Dinner (that’s “lunch” for you city-folk) was a feast, and our evenings were serene, watching a little T.V. or working a puzzle. Grandpa snored in the recliner. Grandma sat in her chair next to him playing a game of solitaire.
When I was in college, my grandparents decided to sell the place. They felt the need to live closer to medical assistance so they moved ten miles into town. My grandmother, after leaving behind the only home she’d ever known, died the next year. Grandpa followed her a few years later. Last I heard, the farm belongs to a distant cousin . . . one I’ve never met. I guess you could say it is still in the family. But I knew after it was sold that I’d probably never see the inside of that house again. I still think about it quite often.
If the situation had been different and the house and farm had come to me, what would I have done with it? I have been considering my answer since sharing Tickle’s metaphor with you.
Thinking through this is a meaningful exercise in discussing the future of the church. Any talk of preserving, restoring, modifying, or reconstructing this “homestead” of ours should hit very close to home. When we discuss updating or scrapping the place that has shaped us, we must do so carefully. Our generation knows what might be lost in the process if we act too hastily. And yet, we also recognize the burden of possessing something that means a lot to some at the same time as it feels out of touch for others.
Author Shawn Lovejoy had an extensive collection of Hot Wheels. As a parent, Lovejoy gave them to his son hoping that he would love the toy cars, maybe even passing on the cherished set to future grandchildren. But there was a problem. His son didn’t love the cars the way he had. They mostly lived in a closet collecting dust. One day, without Lovejoy’s knowledge, the cars were included in a pile of giveaway items.
While the author uses this story to make a different point, I cannot help but see its relevance for this conversation. Sure, I loved my grandparent’s farm. I have a lot of memories there. But if all of sudden I was given the chance to give my wife and kids a first-time tour would they feel any nostalgia or connection? And even if they did, would any of us choose to live there? I doubt it. Sad but true.
Where then do we go?
You might recall that we began this discussion looking at some troubling statistics. The church is in decline. Something should be done. We can read disheartening numbers as a rejection of Christian ideals and values. Or, we can take the hint that old forms simply don’t evoke the same meaning to current generations. This is why, given the opportunity, I would choose the Tickle’s fourth option of “new construction.”
If that seems harsh, realize this is my calling. I’m a church planter. I’m supposed to think differently. Hopefully there are leaders of established churches or energized disciples who are ready to take bold steps with me to buck the trends and stop the bleeding. Consequential obstacles may require dramatic solutions.
Just because I believe that a new construction is in order for my context, I do not deem to speak for all of us. As I said last time, we should have the freedom to discover our uniqueness while we hold space for the different conclusions of others. Let us agree that context and environment matter. Church is not—and should not—be McDonalds. What may be effective in Little Rock may never work in Little Havana. Even within the same city, we might benefit from a variety of church expressions that connect with different people groups differently.
This has not really been our strong suit in the past. We love conformity and sameness because it is simple and orderly. Ironically, the drive for alignment and agreement has actually increased our disagreements.
If you’re interested in what I’m talking about, read Will Mancini’s Church Unique. Discover what is special about your context and get specific about ways to make an impact on your community. Imagine if more churches specialized in certain ministries. As we settle into our uniqueness, we hopefully find the opportunity to let go of needing to be everything for everyone. (That’s a relief!) What if we were okay with getting really good at one thing while we supported our friends across town who were strong where we were weak?
I see untapped power inherent in a variety of expressions. We should recall that Jesus had unique expectations for Peter and John (John 21:18-22). Remember that the early Church benefited from Paul and Barnabas going their separate ways (Acts 15:36-41). We even know that no two of Paul’s churches looked or acted exactly alike.
This brings me back to a point from my first blog. We need to release people for ministry even if they don’t fit our mold. Too many well-intentioned, creative, and energized disciples have been shot down or discouraged because what they came dreaming about didn’t match a leader’s expectations.
I have no problem with identifying and staying focused on a particular vision; we should not apologize for our visions. But let’s also not discourage people who feel inspired by our energy and focus from discovering their own unique calling. Let us give them our blessing (and some funding would be nice) to start the halfway house or the after school program or the new worship service aimed at the missed demographic. Then, let’s stay in relationship with them even if they get too busy to attend and support our thing. Can we commit to resisting the temptation of Kingdom competition?
We--you and I--have this unique opportunity to discover and shape the hereafter of Christian expressions. I believe the future is bright. This mission is worth our effort, our creativity, and our shared resources. It might even surprise you to hear me say that I don’t think we really need more “church planters.” I believe we need more disciples who take the calling and the opportunities uniquely afforded them to share the gospel wherever they live and work and play.
What do you say? Will you join me?