The Lord be with you.
I am sure the staffing changes at the church are filtering down to Sunday school classes, coffee shops, golf foursomes, and other groups across the church. With that, I am sure that there are questions about who will be doing what, why is this happening, and what does this mean? Here are some (beginning) answers:
2. Why is this happening? We are encountering the same realities that many Christian churches are: a diminishing congregation, a more secular country, and a culture that is less friendly to the institutional church. Sundays and Wednesdays are no longer "sacred space" and school, athletic, and community events are regularly scheduled during times previously protected for church activities. We have buried a lot of saints in the past several years, and even in years we have broken "even" in the number of deaths and new members, our new members are often not able to contribute to the church financially at the level of those who passed away. From 2004-2016, our membership and worship attendance has looked like this:
3. What does this mean? I have been blessed to know many of your previous pastors and the work ethic of this church - and it is clear that "working hard enough" has never been the problem. We are living, however, in a season where the church has to move from a membership-model to a discipleship-model of ministry, where we can make disciples... who in turn, can make disciples. We live in a world of wireless communications, online banking, and virtual relationships - which means we have to work harder than ever at establishing personal relationships. We are also a church that has members of varying ages and cultural backgrounds who have different experiences of worship, communications, small group activities, and church programming.
This just doesn't mean our staff will have to assume new roles because they are smaller in number; all of us as a congregation will have to assume new roles. The lines between what we became used to staff doing and what we do as church members will sometimes blur. We are all responsible for each other. All of us are now ministers, not just some of us. This is nothing new; this is what the Apostle Paul told us about being a community of faith:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all of the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us... (from Romans 12:4-6, 1 Cor. 12:4-31)Culture Shock. This is what we are going to encounter - all of us - culture shock! If you've ever traveled outside of our country, you know what this is like: people do familiar things differently than we're used to... but they get done. Even if they speak English, it sounds different and some words have different meaning... but they communicate as effectively as we do. We start to feel odd and out of place... yet we find people who love and embrace us anyway. These next few years will be the same for us. And yet... can you imagine the first twelve disciples being asked by Jesus to "let the dead bury the dead" and "follow me, and I will teach you how to fish for people," and what they must have thought at first?!?
Reality Has Occurred. I have seen the United Methodist Church as a layperson, a preacher serving a 3-point charge, a senior pastor, a district superintendent, and as a present General Conference delegate; in short, I have seen it from the basement to the pew to the pulpit to 30,000 feet above it, and have witnessed incredible changes and shifts in 50-plus years. The history of Christianity shows similar changes and shifts in its 2000 years.
What We Have Isn't Bad! There is still a place for the traditional and sacred. There is still a need for our stories to be told, our legacies to be continued, our fellowship to grow stronger. Our music and youth programs are strong and continue to grow stronger. Our link with Methodist history is something God has used and continues to redeem. God honors and will honor these things. Alongside those things, God also refreshes and renews us:
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?God's Not Done with Us. In fact... God may just be getting started. We already have a great history, a wonderful building, and an awesome location to do ministry in Jackson, Tennessee. It need not, and can not, be confined to our building. We have learned a lot in these 192 years as a church, and still have much to learn. And while no one knows the future "or the day or the hour," this much we do know: God is with us. Let us not be afraid!
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. - Isaiah 43:19