The Church Isn’t Dying; It’s Being Reborn
Jun 29 2015
Every once in a while, I speak here as a Christian to Christians about Christiany things, and I invite the rest of you to participate because you’re always welcome here and always encouraged to pull up a chair to this table. Now because this blog welcomes a wild and wide array of people from all backgrounds, some of you have no interest in this topic, and that’s OK. No sweat. I’ll be talking again soon about pooping my closet or being too sweary or teaching my children to vandalize things and generally upsetting polite society; things you can, in other words, be dismayed I say in public. Hang in there! I’ll be back to delight and/or offend you again soon. Right now it’s the Christians’ turn.
Ready, friends? Alrighty, then. Off we go!
Dear Fellow Christians,
I hear a lot of talk these days. A lot of talk. Talk accompanied by hand-wringing. Talk accompanied by agonizing. Talk accompanied by finger-wagging and distress and, well, even some woe. The Church, by and large — and I mean the universal Church here, the whole shebang, the big enchilada — is kind of, to be technical about it, FREAKING THE HECK OUT.
“THE CHURCH IS DYING,” we say. “The Church is almost dead.” And we get panicky and fearful because the Church is gasping for breath, and it’s on our watch.
It’s not last week’s SCOTUS decision to legalize marriage for all comers and the implication on a traditional view of Scripture that I’m talking about. Or not just that, since I’ve been drafting this post for a hundred, hundred years.
“THE CHURCH IS DYING,” we say, and we’ve been saying it for quite some time, looking for signs of deterioration and finding them everywhere.
“MILLENNIALS ARE LEAVING IN DROVES,” we cry.
“OUR NUMBERS ARE DECLINING.”
“Fewer and fewer people adhere to fundamentalist or even evangelical interpretations of the Bible,” we notice, and we’re right.
“THE PEOPLE IN THE PEWS ARE GETTING OLDER,” we see, and we wonder how to bring in the next generations.
“LOST,” we call people who don’t subscribe to our version of Church, as though we get to assign that title; as though we think we can know who’s lost and who’s found.
And I could cite examples for all of these things, but, frankly, I looked on the World Wide Webs, and — egads! — there are thousands of articles to choose from. Hundreds of thousands. WHOLE SERIES OF BOOKS where the freak-outs are happening. So, as a mama of five who works two jobs and has to choose some things not to do, I’m going to say, if you need proof, look it up. Google can help you. It’s what they do. It’s what they live for.
“THE CHURCH IS DYING,” we say, and we conduct polls and we read stats and we concoct fancy plans to lure people back.
“COME BACK,” we say, and people don’t. They don’t come back; not to church as we understand it, anyway, and we despair.
The Church, it seems, is on its death bed, and those of us who love Jesus – those of us who adore what the Church could be, as a Life-Giver and a Light-Bringer and a Love-Bearer – mourn.
But I want to suggest something to us.
I want to share a teeny, tiny thought.
I want to ask us to consider the idea that the Church may not be dying, friends; it may not be dying at all. The Church may be being reborn.
What if this is true?
The Church isn’t dying. The Church is being reborn.
Listen, friends. Listen. Listen to this little Whisper that sounds a lot like Hope.
The Church isn’t dying. It’s being reborn. The Church is being reborn as it has again and again throughout modern history.
Again and again, the Church is reborn.
I mean, yes, the Church is a hot mess right now. A whole, big, emotional mess. We are not being kind. We are not being gentle. We are not exhibiting self-control. We are looking the Fruits of the Spirit in the eyes and hollering, “BITE ME, Fruits of the Spirit. BITE. ME.” Which, HELLO, is labor exactly. Birth in spades. BITE ME, Kindness. SUCK IT, Gentleness. I AM IN PAIN HERE, AND I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN.
Have you ever been in labor? Have you ever seen it? Imagined it, even? The pain, the agony, the ooey gooey mess; we are pooping all over that table, friends, while we labor and fight and push to bring about new life.
The Church isn’t dying. It’s being reborn. And it is a giant mess of a process, like birthing always is.
The Church isn’t dying. It’s being reborn, and there are people who don’t want to be in the room. They’ve disengaged. They’ve walked out. The process has been too painful. It’s been too much. That’s okay. It really is. Not all of us are built for labor or called to go through it. Not all of us can go through it after we’ve endured too much.
But some of us are in the middle of it. Smack dab. Called to labor. Called to engage. Called to do the birthing or to bear witness to it with all the gore and the swearing and the sweating and the slime. We’re called to labor with all the dedication and all the exhaustion and the risks in equal measure of triumph or defeat.
We’re called to labor because we’re driven to help New Life draw its first breaths. We’re called to labor because Love is pushing and kicking and straining to get out. We’re called to labor because we adore Love already, despite not knowing it fully, despite getting it wrong so often, and we’re called to labor because we know on some core level Love is always worth the agony.
The Church isn’t dying. It’s being reborn as Love again. We are abandoning fundamentalism, ironically to get back to the fundamental of the Gospel which is to Love God and ourselves and to give the gift of Love freely away, especially to those who are different than ourselves, because Love teaches us that those who are different are our Neighbors and our Friends.
We serve a God of Love, after all. We serve a God of Resurrection. We serve a God of New Life. And it turns out this isn’t a numbers game or a death game. This is a hearts game. A hope game. A faith game. A Love game.
Birth is beautiful, yes; A MIRACLE. And it’s gritty and grimy and ugly. Might I suggest this? That our exhaustion with the heresy of exclusion and the nitpicking of rule-bound faith is a rebirthing of the Church and not the killing of it?
Jesus has always been most present in the mess, friends. Born in the muck and the mess and the madness, divinity in the unexpected places. Why should we expect it to be different now? Where else would Jesus be found?
The truth is, I know less and less as the years go by; less and less, and what I do know becomes more deeply distilled into one message and one message only, which is this: Love God — or if the God name doesn’t make sense to you, too stretched out of shape by people trying to shove too many non-God shaped things inside it, then use God’s other name, which is Love; Love Incarnate. Love God. Love Love. Love the Author and Perfector of Love Itself. Love Love in its purest form, and then love each other from the outpouring of that Love. Love each other wildly and without limits. Full of undeserved, unearned Grace.
The Church isn’t dying; it’s being reborn. Again. As Love Incarnate. And that, my friends, is Hope.
With, it turns out, undying Love,
P.S. Shel Silverstein already wrote this whole post in poem form. It’s called Invitation, and it’s one of the most Godly things I’ve ever read.
So, friends, come in. Come in. Come in.
If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.