beth woolsey

mess maker • magic finder • rule breaker • kindness monger

The Church Isn’t Dying; It’s Being Reborn

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.



“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…?

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.
Come in!
Come in!



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26 responses to “The Church Isn’t Dying; It’s Being Reborn”

  1. I’m crying over here. Because after a month in the States getting my visa I am finally back in the Dominican Republic where I’ve lived as a teacher/missionary for three years. And because yesterday I spent eight hours at the Ft Lauderdale airport. And because I’m really tired and a little dehydrated (the Dominican Republic is hot, man). But also because this year I’ve been really wondering about Church. I’ve been questioning why we do it the way we do it and why we have drifted so far from the way the very first baby Christians did it and why it makes me angry instead of filling me up and why I think it’s all about me anyway and why churches spend so much money trying to make things bigger and better and why a pastor can cling to his leadership even though he’s not doing a very good job and there are others who want to step up and why a couple would leave a church they’ve attended for over 40 years because the Sunday night service is now bible studies in houses. I read Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted and I cried then too, because as you said there is still so much hope. But man alive. The Church. I love it. And I’ve been scared for it. For so many American churches and even our little Dominican church. I’m scared we’re missing the point.

    But you remind me, as I oft need reminded, that it’s not about me, about my fears or my preferences. It’s about the labor. The process of redemption and sanctification that God has promised to complete. Whenever I get bogged down with theology and lists and rules and other people’s damnations, I go back to the basics. To the Mark 12:30-21. To Love. Love God, Love People. That’s my job. In the church building and outside of it. Bless the Lord I really don’t have to know anything more than that my purpose is to Love God and Love People.

    Thanks for the reminder, for the encouragement, for the words.

  2. I have struggled most of my life with the topic of religion. Wanting to believe in the god of my evangelical upbringing, but not grasping the contradictions of the new testament vs. the old testament. Recently, and in part thanks to your blog, I have begun to find a place in my heart/head where it all makes some sense. I pray often, usually it starts out “God, if you’re real….” Recently though, the prayer has changed a bit. I get it. God is love, Christ is love and I am called to love. Where I am called to root out sin, it is only my own sin so that I might better live out my real mission…to love and to BE love as much as a deeply flawed (and frankly dangerous without caffeine) woman can be. The sacrifice on the cross wiped out the old covenant and the new covenant cares less about what you eat, what you wear, and what animal you use to make blood sacrifice…and so much more about what you give to those in need and who you reach out a helping hand to. Interestingly it has been a few christian bloggers responses to the recent marriage (the sky is falling) hysteria that has helped me finally see this. That and this blog, that I only ever clicked on in passing because of something about pooping a closet. 😉

  3. […] The Church Isn’t Dying; It’s Being Reborn. (I’m unabashedly veering into Christian theological territory here) This. Oh my this. I think the decision this past week to legalize all forms of marriage was a good thing for the Church; it removes any lingering proclivity to think of the government as an ally in the advancement of Christianity. It isn’t our ally (and shouldn’t be), and the Church as a whole should never have made homosexuality this huge line in the sand. It absolutely breaks me to read the vicious words of hate my fellow Christians have spewed forth in their fear of this cultural change, especially since Scripture tells us specifically not to fear (not to mention hate isn’t one of the Fruits we’re supposed to be modeling). That isn’t to say you have to agree on moral grounds with all the changes we’re seeing, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is it doesn’t matter. Our mandate has ever been thus, no matter the political or social climate: Love God. Love your neighbor (especially the ones that push your buttons). Go forth and make disciples. When people meet Jesus, that’s when spiritual change happens. So don’t stand in His way. […]

  4. This –> “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.

    Yes. There’s only two things I’m sure about when it comes to being a Christian these days. 1. Love is most definitely God’s other name. 2. I’m not sure about anything else. And it drives me a little crazy as a ‘millennial Christian’ to hear people’s certitude about what is sin and and what isn’t, and who is saved and who isn’t. And really, it doesn’t matter anyway if you’ve determined to love them as God loves you.

  5. Just this weekend I had a long discussion with my husband about this very thing; about what, in fact, being a part of “the church” even means anymore. And I often feel like I’m coming at this topic from such a different angle than anyone I know and anyone in my denomination (although I’m quite certain that’s not true).

    I am known in my circles as that lady who’s obsessed with birth and birthing. I am so deeply drawn to it and it appears to be drawn to me. 🙂 Now you’ve finally given me a handle on this topic that resonates completely. Birth pangs…laboring…yes, yes, YES! Even the differing responses here resonate perfectly with this metaphor.I started weeping about one paragraph into this post and all the way through to the end. A cleansing, relieving weep. Thanks friend, for this gift.

  6. I’m a Jew, and people are saying the same thing about our religion, too. Your post makes perfect sense to me (except the whole Jesus thing, but you get what I mean).

  7. Oh Beth,
    This is perfect. It’s exactly what I’m feeling, but with hope. But with compassion for those who are screaming and fighting the rebirth. I can look at them as I would look at a laborinf woman (the doula in me really connects to this metaphor), with compassion, and love, and a hand outstretched, and a soft word “How can I help you? How can I support you as you walk this difficult path right now?” Thank you, thank you, for reminding me of Hope and Love.

  8. When Christ walked the Earth and got in the face of the religious establishment of the time, there was much wringing-of-hands, gnashing-of-teeth, and rending-of-garments over the change He was bringing to their beloved status quo. The original birth pains, if you will. Your explanation makes perfect, beautiful, scary, messy sense. And in this light, I can’t wait to see the miracle He will bring about, and maybe even, if I’m brave enough, be a part of it. Well said as always, Beth! xoxo

  9. I’ve been lurking here for awhile now and I’m finally de-lurking to say I love this and I love you. I’ve been spending a lot of time feeling conflicted lately about exactly this subject and you’ve made a great point here. Basically that point is my favorite word: HOPE. Can we be BFFs now? 🙂

  10. some of us have labored too long. We want to birth a new kind of community where every person is known, loved valued. Can no longer believe organized church is the best model for that

  11. some of us have labored too long. We dream of a community where every person is known, valued and loved. We can’t see this happening in organized church but in small gatherings that are

  12. I am not Christian however your post resonates on so many other levels. People are terrified of change in general and everything is always changing and developing, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse but always evolving. We need to learn to roll with it. Yes there’s some mud on the way but there are also waterfalls to wash off in along the way. BTW, I love that poem.

  13. Alleluia! You have put my feelings into words! Birth is horrible and beautiful and hard and the best thing ever all at once. How glorious to have a context for what we are experiencing. My prayer is that more Shel’s get involved and more dreamers and wishers come in, because the end of the story is oh so good.

  14. After arguing with my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother all weekend about this, you have made me cry. We could blame the pregnancy, but you probably would have made me cry anyway. This is exactly it.

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