A Week in the Woods: Reflections on Youth Week at Kanuga and the future of youth ministry

Short Reads

I spent the last week in the mountains of Western North Carolina at the Kanuga Conference Center as a staff member for Senior Young People (SYP). SYP is a weeklong conference for high school students from across the country that, along with Junior Young People (JYP) and Adults Who Work With Youth (AWWWY), makes up the annual Youth Week at Kanuga.

Kanuga is a special place in my life for two big reasons. First, I was a participant at Youth Week and the winter equivalent, Winterlight, as a young person. Some of my earliest moments of self-discovery and growth took place in the meeting spaces and large group venues at Kanuga. It is a major signpost on my journey towards the priesthood. Second, and most importantly, my wife and I were married at Kanuga in the Chapel of the Transfiguration.

I look forward to making the trek back to Kanuga once or twice a year to work on staff at these youth conferences and reconnect with fellow staff members and friends from all over the country. Despite everything I just wrote, this is not a sappy post about how much I love Kanuga. Neither is this an advertisement for Youth Week or any of the programs hosted at Kanuga.

This post is about the future of youth ministry inspired by my experience at SYP.

The theme of this year’s program was “Making a Way By Walking”. The focus was the journeys that led us to Kanuga and the continually unfolding journey in front of us once we left. This got me thinking about the event-driven model of youth ministry. Too often, youth events and camps are seen as “mountain top” experiences that help sustain our faith until we can get back to the mountaintop for the next event.

I have heard numerous people refer to youth events as the “mountain top” and their daily lives as the “valley” or “the real world”.

This presents two clear problems:

First, Jesus is quite clear that the spiritual life cannot exist on the mountain top. In Matthew and Luke, he is transfigured in the presence of his closest friends on the mountain top, but then quickly returns to the work of ministry on the ground. The mountain top is an incubator for spiritual experience, sure, but it is no place for that experience to fully develop and mature.

It is easy to coordinate a weekend retreat or weeklong conference to culminate in an emotional crescendo (Ex: any healing service at a summer camp or retreat weekend). The close quarters, change in sleep schedule, and new environments make retreats and camps minefields of emotion.

This isn’t inherently bad, but it does create unsustainable expectations for newly minted faith and spirituality. Which brings me to the second issue:

By propping up the false dichotomy between the mountain top and the “real world” we fail to equip young people with the tools that they will need to take their faith into their daily lives.

Christianity is hard.

For too long we have tried to dumb the faith down and make it as user-friendly as possible, but the truth is that faith in Jesus Christ in the 21st century requires everything you have. It requires changing, growing, and being molded into the person God has called you to be. It requires speaking up against injustice in all its insidious forms. It requires putting others before self. It requires a dramatic reordering of personal priorities.

The Early Church showed that admitting Jesus was Lord meant denouncing all of the other voices that try to assert Lordship. We no longer have a Caeser that claims to be a god, but we do have systemic racism, consumerism, phobias of all sorts (homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, etc.), and nationalism that are trying to put their idols on the throne to be worshipped.

We’ve had a few decades of “I’m okay, you’re okay” Christianity and it has only given us more room in our pews on Sunday morning.

Like Peter, too often we ask “Where can we pitch our tents?” but the missional conversation reminds us that the better questions is “Where has God already set up camp?”

Instead of setting up camp twice a year on the mountain top, our mission is to walk the streets of our communities and join God’s camping trip already in progress.

The future of youth ministry is less event based and more missional. It will take youth out into their communities, out from behind the “safe” walls of their faith communities and into the messy world. There will be fewer “Facebook profile picture mission trips” and more local service.

It will mean helping youth develop a language for their faith and how their faith impacts their day-to-day lives. It will mean less entertainment and more discipleship. In the world of Netflix and iPhones, youth do not need any more entertainment – what they need is deep formation and meaning.

The last day of SYP was spent talking about the journey ahead and what the experiences at Kanuga mean for the days and weeks to come. 150 people hiked around the lake with our arms held above our heads to illustrate how hard it is to walk in the Christian way. The only relief on the hike came when we stood in a big circle, everyone’s arms resting on the people next to them.

This is the image of the future of youth ministry. Like hiking three miles with hands up, it is not easy, but it is doable. We should be teaching youth that the Christian life is not always sunshine and rainbows, but that all things are possible through Christ and the fellowship of the Church. That the world can be a dark place, but that we are to proclaim the Light.

I left Kanuga refreshed and ready to head to Salt Lake City for the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. My hope is that the General Convention is a moment of rest, when we can stand together and rest our arms as we sing a new church into being.

I hope that we are not looking to build more mountain tops, but are prepared to take our tents down and go out into the world.

I am optimistic about the future of youth ministry and the future of the Episcopal Church because of the young people that crowded into Kanuga for a week. I saw them transformed and sent out to spread the Good News that God is already working in the “real world” and it is our moment to join in.

What Story Are You Telling?: Missional Young Adult Ministry (Super Serial Post #6)

Short Reads

I am nervous about writing this post. I’m nervous because it seems that every child of God with a blog has written a post about young adults and the church.

In full disclosure, I’ve written a few (like this one).

Young Adults are having a moment. Every corporation and organization wants to understand Millennials so that they will buy their products. The church is not immune. Pastors in all denominations and branches of Western Christianity are scratching their heads and wondering where the young adults are.

I just love stock photography.

I just love stock photography.

Folks are looking to blog posts, books, other popular pastors, and anyone else who may help them tap into the young adult fountain.

This blog post is part of a series on missional Christianity, so the question here is slightly different than some of the other blog posts out there. My primary concern is not how to get young adults to go to church or even how to make our churches more attractive to young adults.

This line of thinking represents a model of church that the missional understanding rejects. The goal is not to attract young people to sit in the pews, the goal is to reach out and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to young adults where they are.

Instead of providing the five easy steps to attracting young adults, I will give you two questions to ask when thinking about young adult ministry in your church or community.

The first question is why do you want to reach out to young adults? What is the goal? Are you hoping that young adults will breathe new life into your congregation? Do you think young adults will make your parish a little more hip? Do you think that young adults lead to young families which leads to church growth?

Everyone has a motive. To be clear, the motives listed above are not inherently bad, but it is important to understand what you want from the young adults you are seeking to reach. Young adults have energy and passion, yes. Young adults are often slightly ‘cooler’ than other generations (myself excluded). Young adults often start families and invite friends to church.

These things are true and they shouldn’t be the reason for reaching out to young adults.

The primary reason for reaching out to young adults (and everyone else) is the Great Commission – the fact that Jesus told us to tell the world that we have something they need.

This brings me to the second question to ask when trying to reach out to young adults. What story are you telling?

Young adults have grown up in a world in which they are constantly being sold things. From phone screens to televisions to billboards to every space in between, young adults are used to weeding through advertising to find the content they connect with.

Advertisers know that they need to tell a story through their marketing. The general story is that there is a problem (whether real or made up) and their product will solve that problem. If you tell the story of the problem well enough, you won’t need to work hard to sell your solution.

Christianity has the proto-story. We have the greatest solution to the world’s deepest problem. That is our story. And yet, many churches are telling a different story and it shows.

One common story that I see churches telling is that we don’t have enough members and we want more, no matter what it takes.

Another story I see churches telling is that there are social problems in the world and the church is an organization that fixes social problems.

Your church is telling a story, that is not a question. The question is whether or not you are being intentional about the story you are telling.

Young adults can tell when they are being sold of a bill of goods or a faulty solution. Too often, church leaders guess the story that young adults want to hear and respond accordingly.

Church leaders think, “Young adults love to hang out in bars. They must love to talk about theology in a bar.” Or they think, “When I was a young adult, I loved acoustic guitars in worship. We need a contemporary service to attract young adults.”

I am not bashing these two examples. I know many young adults who love theology on tap and contemporary services. The trouble arises when church leaders think that either of these outreach methods (or anything else) is the magic bullet that will have young adults flocking.

Young adults do not have a “Spidey-sense” for guitar music and pastors in blue jeans.

Someone is singing "Sanctuary"... I can feel it.

Someone is singing “Sanctuary”… I can feel it.

The magic bullet is not a program or event, the magic bullet is to figure out what story your congregation is telling and tell it well.

As I said in my last post about youth ministry, the greatest thing that the church has to offer the world is meaning through Jesus Christ and meaning is something that transcends all settings, events, and outreach methods.

I think the urge to hold bible studies in bars or to adapt worship music to more popular modes of musical expression is a good one. It is the first step in the missional journey, but we can’t stop there.

A priest walks into a bar...

A priest walks into a bar…

We can’t stop once the young adult is at the bar bible study because once that young adult leaves the bar and comes to your church the story changes. Often, things don’t match up. The story you are telling about your church at the bar on Wednesday night doesn’t match the church they see on Sunday morning.

Authenticity is so important when reaching out to young adults. Don’t tell a story that isn’t true just so young adults will come to your church. Don’t give them window dressing.

The best way to reach out to young adults is to let your community of faith do what it does best. Don’t try to be a social club or a charity or a concert venue, but simply be the church that you are.

You don’t have to change or add new programs to attract young adults. You must simply live your life on purpose and be fully engaged in the mission of God.

You will need to change if your mission isn’t clear and your story is muddled.

You will need to change if your doors only open in. 

Alan Hirsch and Darryn Altclass say, “Remissionalizing [a church is] about gearing the whole community around natural discipling friendships, worship as lifestyle, and mission in the context of everyday life.”

Reaching out to young adults in a missional way means getting to know the young folks that work in your office or that hang around the coffee shop where you do your work. It means listening to the young adults that already attend your church to find out what story they are telling.

It means living out your faith in a way that points to Christ

It means that we must stop guessing what young adults want and go out into our community to find out what they really need.

It means learning our own story so that we can tell it to those around us.

It doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel or coming up with a new story all together.

Michael Frost sums it up by saying, “When we have no impressive buildings and no swollen budgets to sustain our work, often only then do we realize that the best we have to offer this post-Christendom world is the quality of our relationships, the power of our trustworthiness, and the wonder of our generosity.”

Transformative young adult ministry takes time. It takes the long, hard work of building authentic relationships. It takes effort to learn how to best articulate our story. It takes prayer and study. It takes risk.

The Christian story is the most captivating and transformative story in history. For two-thousand years, people who have lived their lives from within the Christian story have done miraculous things and changed the world.

We need to put the spark back in the story that we are telling. 

I’ll leave you with another quote, this one from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, that describes the reframing that must happen for the church to reach out and impact the lives of young adults (and everyone else as well).

Please note, there is so much more to be said about missional young adult ministry. You can rest assured that you will hear more from me about this topic as I begin my work with the people of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia in the next months.

For now, I leave you with these words, “If you want to build a ship, don’t summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs, and organize the work; rather teach people the yearning for the wide, boundless ocean.” 

What Are We Doing Here?: Missional Youth Ministry (Super Serial Post #5)

Short Reads

We’ve established what it means to be missional. Now the time has come to drill down even further and focus on two areas that are close to my heart: youth and young adult ministry. This post will focus on understanding missional youth ministry, while the next post will wade into the murky waters of blog posts about young adult ministry.

The first thing that we need to decide is the purpose of youth ministry. Youth ministry emerged shortly after the idea of adolescence and the teenage years became a cultural norm around the time of the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that, you were a child or you were an adult.

With the standardization of schooling and the protection of children from unfair labor practices, a new category emerged. Suddenly there was this group of young people: not children and not yet adults, with free time and closely drawn social circles.

Fast forward to the middle of the 20th century, when churches sought to offer an alternative to the “secular youth culture” that was seen as a corrupting force in the world. Churches created equally attractive events and groups that would draw youth away from sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and towards Christ.

Quick, get inside before the culture gets on you.

Quick, get inside before the secular culture gets on you.

The goal was to convince the youth that Jesus is their friend.

This model continued, fairly unchecked, for decades.

Growing up in southern Alabama, I remember the evangelical youth group members passing out flyers at school for events that featured free tacos, free video games, moon bounces, and any other gimmick that would draw our attention.

Moonbounce...for Jesus?

Moonbounce…for Jesus?

I would often ask, “What are we doing here?”, as I played Nintendo, ate tacos, and talked to the cute Baptist girls.

The youth group I attended at the local Episcopal Church never offered video games or nights centered around free tacos. There were never flyers to hand out or gimmicks advertised.

Instead, 15-20 of my closest friends gathered together once a week for an hour. We played a goofy game, discussed the Bible and Christ’s love, and grew in community. We would also do a lot of community service.

I remember thinking, “What are we doing here?” as we picked up trash along the beach or painted the walls of the local thrift store.

These two examples show the two most prominent forms of youth ministry that I have seen.

The first focuses on numbers. The goal is to bring as many youth as possible in the door. What happens once they are inside the doors can change week-to-week, as long as a lot of youth are present. The thinking is that the more youth you bring, the more youth you can bring to Christ, and the bigger impact you can have.

The second model focuses on community. The goal is to have a close-knit group of youth, with little focus given to the size of the group. This is the predominant model in the Episcopal Churches that I have seen. The group gathers at the church, plays some games, eats dinner (usually spaghetti or pizza), and does some sort of activity.

These models are not inherently wrong.

They have worked for many years and reached many people. I was formed by my Episcopal youth group and youth minister as a middle school and high school student.

The problem is that they are both built on the attractional model of church. Programs (or tacos) bring the youth into the church building where they are entertained for an hour once a week.

If the goal of our youth ministry is entertainment, it is no wonder that fewer and fewer students are coming. If we are trying to entertain we will have to compete with social media, video games, Netflix, and the myriad of other extracurricular activities that are vying for our youth’s time.

We have lost sight of the primary reason for gathering a youth group and why youth group is important. Until we recover and articulate our purpose and importance of youth group, the other extracurricular activities will always win out. Parents can clearly explain why a young person needs to participate in their soccer team or band, but can they as clearly articulate why it is important to go to youth group?

Can we clearly articulate why youth group is important? Do we even believe that youth group is important?

In the book As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students, Kenda Creasy Dean says, “We are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe. Namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people primarly focused on ‘folks like us’….”(pg. 59).

We have lost sight of the true purpose of the church and, therefore, we have lost sight of the true goal of youth ministry.

Before I go any further I should note that I am not anti-fun. I don’t think that youth group should be a lecture or another church service. That being said, if the only reason the youth gather together at church is to play games and eat pizza, why are they at church?

What makes the church different is that it is first and foremost about the mission of God, who is reconciling the world through Jesus Christ.

Youth group is so much more than a refuge from the secular world or a social club. Youth group can be a place where youth are taught the Christian story and spiritually fed so that they can go out into the world and preach the Gospel with their lives and with their words.

Another trend over the past decades is the postponing of perceived maturation in the church. People automatically assume that the youth group can’t understand weighty theological topics or can’t assume leadership positions in the church. Or even worse, many adult leaders assume youth are apathetic and don’t care about the church.

There are many churches and Dioceses that are exceptions to this trend. Many places treat youth with the respect they deserve and include youth voices in the life of the community.

However, there are also many churches that see the youth group as babysitting and the youth as wild animals that would flip over cars if left unattended.

Missional youth ministry’s first goal is not entertainment. It is also not babysitting by another name.

Missional youth ministry is about raising up youth to lead in their congregations and communities. It is about equipping youth so that they can go out into the world with a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is about getting to know the youth in the community and their actual (not perceived or assumed) needs.

It is less about one youth minister or youth worker serving as the Pied Piper of the youth and more about a group of adults investing in the lives of the youth of their faith community.

It is less about one big youth event that attracts a large number of youth and more about a small number of youth sent out to encounter and influence their world.

Paul talks about the difference between spiritual milk and spiritual meat (1 Corinthians 3). We give our youth spiritual milk from birth until they go off to college and wonder why many of them don’t come back.

What we need is a reframing of our understanding of youth ministry.

Less entertainment, more equipping. 

Less babysitters, more mentors. 

Less gimmicks, more Gospel. 

Youth can handle more than the baby food we have been serving them. The youth that I have encountered are hungry for the Gospel to be preached and are ready for the responsibility that we often withhold.

They are used to being told what they cannot do (or should not do) by all the adults in their lives.

What they are not used to hearing is what they can do or what they have been called to do by God.

What is the answer? What are the five steps to an effective, missional youth ministry?

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to do any of this. It takes the long, hard work of relationship. Each church’s youth have different needs. Each ministry context has unique challenges.

One thing is clear – it is time to put some meat on the bones of youth ministry. Many, many churches and youth leaders are doing amazing things. Many people have given their whole lives to the service of the youth of the church.

There are so many amazing youth workers that live out their calling working tirelessly behind the scenes, building lasting relationships and effective ministries.

It’s time for the rest of the church to wake up and give youth the respect they want and deserve.

When youth ask “What are we doing here?”, we should be prepared to give them more than pizza and a moonbounce or even fellowship and community service.

The church has something to offer youth and it is something they are desperately looking for. The church has Jesus Christ and through Christ, we have real meaning. We have the answer to the meta-question, “What are we doing here?”

A missional youth group is a place where youth figure out their God-given gifts, experience what it is like to live in community, and learn the story of redemption through Christ.

A missional youth group is a place where youth learn that they matter and they have meaning. It is a place where they are affirmed. It is a place where they learn what it means to be a Christian. It is a place where they find their calling.

“What are we doing here?” 

I’m not sure, but come to youth group this week and we’ll figure it out together. 

Stay tuned for next week’s post all about missional young adult ministry.

Don’t Call It A Comeback: What Missional Anglicanism Has To Offer (Super Serial Post #4)

Short Reads

Happy Easter and welcome back to everyone following along on this serial blog journey. The goal of this series is to understand what we talk about when we talk about being missional. I’ve established that it is not just another church growth slogan. I’ve established that it is not just about bringing in more church members. I’ve given some backbone to the term using the work of Lesslie Newbigin.

Now, I am drilling down deeper and becoming more specific to my own denomination/tradition: The Episcopal Church.

My hope is that by the end of today’s post, you will see that the missional conversation is nothing new to the Episcopal Church or broader Anglican tradition. We may have lost our way on the missional journey, but it is nothing new to us.

Or as the great Church historian, LL Cool J, said, “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.”

The man, the myth, the kangol

The man, the myth, the kangol hat

My source for most of the information in this post is the great work of Dwight Zscheile, whose books People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity and The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age serve as an unofficial playbook for many churches that are exploring the missional landscape.

The missional conversation seems foreign to many Episcopalians because it is fundamentally anti-“Establishment church” and the Episcopal Church has been, in the eyes of many, the quintessential “Establishment church” for two centuries. In The People of the Way, Zscheile comments that the Episcopal Church began as the Established church in the colonies and then shifted to be the church of the Establishment. “The Anglican Church in America…remained favored by many of its socioeconomic elite. As long as the Episcopal Church tended to uphold the status quo of a stratified economic system and a rationalistic faith, it failed to attract and retain wider swaths of the American populace”(pg. 22).

This establishment mindset stayed with the Episcopal Church throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. A great example of this mindset can be seen in the decision to build The Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C.. This mindset can also be seen in the missionary style of the Episcopal Church, where any effort was primarily focused on outreach, social ministry, and education, with little emphasis given to evangelism. Dwight Zscheile says, “…the predominant establishmentarian ethos fostered approaches to mission in which confessing the faith was implicit rather than explicit” (pg. 25).

Only the Episcopal Church would call their cathedral "The National Cathedral"

Zscheile says, only the Episcopal Church would call their cathedral “The National Cathedral”

Now that establishment Christianity is fading away and a new reality is emerging in the United States, we are learning that this focus on implicit mission largely failed. The idea that Christian education and evangelism would somehow work via osmosis now seems obviously misguided.

There are now generations of people who grew up going to church every Sunday, but do not know or understand the Christian story. There are also many people who attend church regularly, but could not clearly articulate why they attend or why their faith is important to them. In many mainline churches, there has been a massive failure in giving people the language to share their faith and the Christian story in favor of the “implicit” model of evangelism.

In previous posts I have written about the “attractional” model of church, which involves a bricks-and-mortar building filled with religious goods and services for those who come to the building. This is a fundamentally establishment mindset that has been the modus operandi for most Episcopal churches. Therefore, it might be hard for Episcopalians to break out of the attractional mindset. For many of us, our faith is tied to physical places: the church we grew up in, the church we were confirmed in, the church our grandparents attended, etc. I am not immune from this type of thinking.

Fear not! Being missional does not mean tearing down churches, it simply means changing our focus. In the missional mindset, churches move from the focus of all activity to an outpost or hub for mission work. Church becomes a place to be refueled and renewed to go back into the world, rather than a place of refuge and escape from the world.

The Episcopal Church is at an important crossroads. We can chose to remain the way we are and seek to bring more people into our established churches. This seems logical and safe, but I am afraid that it will lead to the shrinking and closing of many more churches. The Episcopal Church is currently organized to stay in this model and could do so easily. We could easily reorganize our internal governing bodies to be more efficient, while we paint our doors a brighter shade of red and continue to wonder why people aren’t showing up.

The second path will be much harder and much less clear. It will mean going back to our foundation and building completely new structures and processes. It will mean choosing to close some churches so that we are not forced to close all of our churches. It will mean leaving our offices and parish halls to go out into the community. It will require some grieving as things pass away so that new things can come into being. It will mean welcoming new and different people that might make us nervous. It will mean being uncomfortable and uncertain. It will mean the slow work of relationship and community building instead of the quick work of church growth strategies.

The second path will mean returning to our Anglican roots and being missional. Dwight Zscheile says that the Anglicanism has many gifts to offer this time and place. “Far too many times, I have heard Episcopalians describe themselves by what they are not – not fundamentalist, not Roman Catholic, etc. Now is the time to claim what we do have to offer” (pg. 100).

The first gift missional Anglicanism has to offer is cultural translation. “Anglicanism…engages, reflects, and adapts to the particular cultural and social settings in which it finds itself….[It] has a great degree of freedom to change dynamically as the context changes” (pg. 100). This explains why Anglicanism has exploded in various contexts around the world. This ability to shift and change is woven into Anglicanism’s DNA.

“…[O]ur liturgies and common life must continue to be adapted and translated as the languages and cultures in our nation change….[This] also applies to younger generations and newcomers who need expressions of Episcopal worship and life that resonate with their native ways of speaking and being together” (pg.101).

The Incarnation is God’s own cultural translation and it shows that adapting to a given culture is not something to be feared. The Episcopalian aversion to change is almost as well-known as our liturgy, but that doesn’t mean that we have to live up to that reputation. The missional conversation is a logical fit for the Episcopal Church as the expression of Anglican tradition in 21st-century America.

The second gift of Anglicanism is liturgical worship in an image-based age. Cultural translation does not mean cultural conformity and being missional does not mean sacrificing tradition. The traditional liturgy of the Episcopal Church provides a welcome reprieve from the primarily image-based media of modern culture, but it does not swing so far in the other direction as some of the more heavily word-based denominations. Evangelical churches tend to master new media more quickly and more effectively than other denominations, but Anglicanism offers worship that is not primarily word-based. Instead, Anglican worship puts deep meaning to the images, symbols, and words. Zscheile says, “Worship in our churches tends to value multiple means of artistic expression – the drama of the liturgy, colorful vestments and church decorations, icons, paintings, candles, movement, music, the tangible experience of sharing in the bread and wine, even incense” (pg. 103).

Many evangelicals are moving to liturgical expressions of Christianity, especially the Episcopal Church. This is due, in part, to the holistic approach to worship (involving the whole body and the whole of human experience) and also because of the rich tradition that undergirds the liturgy. That being said, there must be a balance between celebrating the best of our tradition and falling into traditionalism. This dangerous traditionalism is clear in the “…churches resist adapting and opening up the riches of their traditions to new generations and populations as a way of reacting to cultural changes they cannot control” (pg. 103).

The third gift of missional Anglicanism is theological breadth and diversity. “The historic Anglican tolerance for complexity and ambiguity is a gift in a postmodern world, where paradox, ambiguity, and mystery are valued, not explained away” (pg. 104). In the last century, as progress in society made unclear many of those things that were once thought to be absolute, many branches of Christianity ran in the opposite direction towards unshakable (and unattainable) certainty. This is most evident in the rise of fundamentalism, but it can also be seen in more recent events in many denominations. Historic denominations, including the Episcopal Church, that once celebrated their “big tent” have been bitterly divided by the desire of some to have a firm grasp on the truth.

More and more, people are desperate for black and white answers in an incredibly diverse, multicolored world. This is why megachurches with celebrity pastors grow so quickly. In a time when so many voices are making so many truth claims, to have one charismatic person stand on stage and declare absolutes is very attractive to many people.

Anglicanism has rarely offered celebrity pastors with all the answers. What we do offer is a “framework of the historic creeds, the Prayer Book, and an ordered ministry” all seen through the lens of Scripture and our own experience. The focus of most Episcopal Churches is the altar, not the pulpit, because we primarily seek Christ in the mystery of the Eucharist and not only in the definite words of the preacher.

Admittedly, this freedom has led to disintegration of Christian identity in some individuals and churches, but it more commonly leads to a beautiful diversity and richness of Christian expression.

These are just three of the ways that the Episcopal Church has the necessary roots to sustain new growth as a missional church. Anglicanism is open to new cultural expressions and a diversity of theology while remaining within the embrace of tradition. So as we go out into the world and join in God’s mission, we can rest knowing that this is nothing new to us as Anglicans and it is definitely nothing new to Christianity.

60991800

 

For more on this topic, read Zscheile’s two books mentioned above. Also, check out the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission.

 

Stay tuned for the next two posts. I will go more in depth and talk about missional youth and young adult ministry in the Episcopal Church.

 

Newbigin-ing at the Beginning (Super Serial Post #3)

Short Reads

Y’all.

It has been a while, hasn’t it?

Between my week on retreat and spring break, I’ve been away from the blog-realm for two whole weeks. But the world spins on and so do my posts on the Missional Church.

This week’s post is all about Lesslie Newbigin. Who is Lesslie Newbigin? Great question, keep reading.

This regal looking fellow is Lesslie Newbigin.

This regal looking fellow is a young Lesslie Newbigin.

A little disclaimer: I know that Lesslie Newbigin is not the only mission-minded theologian in Christendom. I also know that this short post could not do justice to the incredibly dense volume of work that Newbigin produced in his lifetime. I even know that this post may be seen by some to be like one brick compared to the Great Wall of China.

My hope is that this will give you enough information to spark a fire in you to go do some research on your own. If it doesn’t, hopefully it will give you enough information to understanding more fully that I am not just making this stuff up.

The Missional Church is not an invention of the church growth advisors and it is not a fad.

Unlike juicing, the Missional Church is not another fad.

Unlike juicing, the Missional Church is not another fad.

So let’s learn more about Lesslie Newbigin.

Newbigin was born in England in 1909. His father, a businessman, sent him to a Quaker boarding school at 12 because of their committed pacifism. He went to Queens’ College  in 1928. He became involved with the Student Christian Movement and had a conversion experience while leading a camping trip for underprivileged men.  He soon articulated his call to ordained ministry and set out to become a missionary.

In 1936, he and his wife set out for India as missionaries. Newbigin worked for many years in India and eventually helped to establish a large network of Christian communities across the country. He would train “mission agents” and send them out into smaller villages to teach and baptize. Newbigin eventually became the Bishop in the Church of South India.

He “retired” in 1974 and went on to teach at Selly Oaks College in Birmingham, UK. He turned down an offer to become the Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham and instead became the pastor of a small, inner-city Reformed congregation.

Throughout his whole career, Newbigin was a prolific writer, with 17 books published prior to retirement. During his “retirement” period, he would publish 15 more books.

Newbigin was an incredible writer and was extremely passionate about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He spent the bulk of his career abroad, but when he returned to Europe he was shocked to find that secularization had spread rapidly. On their journey home from India, the Newbigin family had to worship by themselves while in Cappadocia because they couldn’t find a church or group of Christians to worship with. This forever changed the way Newbigin viewed Western culture because he saw just how quickly a once firmly Christian city could abandon the faith.

Newbigin’s work formed part of the foundation for the modern Missional Church. Below are several quotes from Newbigin’s book, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, that can help Western Christians understand the position we are in and where we must go from here.

“In many contexts a ‘mission church’ was the second-class institution in the downtown quarter of the city….In some forms of ecclesiastical vernacular, a ‘missionary diocese’ was a diocese that had not yet graduated to the full status of a diocese without qualification. Theological faculties might have provided a place for ‘missions’ as a branch of practical theology, but it had no place in the central teaching of Christian doctrine. To put it briefly, the church approved of ‘missions’ but was not itself the mission.” (pg. 2)

“If God is indeed the true missionary…our business is not to promote the mission of the church, but to get out into the world, find out ‘what God is doing in the world’, and join forces with him.” (pg. 18)

Missionis faith in action. It is the acting out by proclamation and by endurance, through all the events of history, of the faith that the kingdom of God has drawn near. It is the acting out of the central prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to use: ‘Father, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as in heaven.'” (pg. 39)

[Mission] is not the property of the church. It is not domesticated within the church. Mission is not simply the self-propagation of the church by putting forth the power that inheres in its life….On the contrary, the active agent of mission is a power that rules, guides, and goes before the church: the free, sovereign, living power of the Spirit of God. Mission is not just something the church does; it is something that is done by the Spirit, who is himself the witness, who changes both the world and the church, who always goes before the church in its missionary journey.” (pg. 56)

“At this point the church has to keep silence. It is not in control of the mission. Another is in control, and his fresh works will repeatedly surprise the church, compelling it to stop talking and to listen.” (pg. 61)

I would have quoted the entire book if copyright law and the average reader’s attention span would allow it. Hopefully this post has given you a taste of the huge body of work that makes up the foundation of the Missional Church.

The main take away is that “mission is not the property of the church”; it is not just a new way of getting people into the pews. The mission is God’s. The church can take part in God’s mission by taking our hands off the wheel and following Christ.

"Jesus, take the wheel."

“Jesus, take the wheel.”

It may seem that I am beating a dead horse by constantly reiterating what missional means and that God’s mission is not fundamentally about the church. I am emphasizing it so heavily because it is my experience that people don’t really accept it. Many church folks seem to say, “Yeah, yeah. Being missional is not about church membership and church growth” while they wink and keep hoping that it is just that.

I’ll leave you with some closing words from the end of The Open Secret:

“The mystery of the gospel is not entrusted to the church to be buried in the ground. It is entrusted to the church to be risked in the change and interchange of the spiritual commerce of humanity. It belongs not to the church but to the one who is both head of the church and head of the cosmos. It is within his power and grace to bring to its full completion that long-hidden purpose, the secret of which has been entrusted to the church in order that it may become the open manifestation of the truth to all the nations.” (pg. 189)

We have now drilled down a little more to the true meaning of the missional church. The next blog posts will drill down even further to explore missional Anglicanism and what the missional Episcopal Church might look like. From there, we will look at missional youth and young adult ministry in particular.

Stay tuned.

A.A. Milne

Being Sent: What the Missional Church Actually Is (Super Serial Post #2)

Short Reads

In the last post I told you what the missional church is not.

This brings us to the next question: if being missional is not a movement, fad, or church growth scheme, what is it?

There are several different answers to that question and, like most things in the church, it depends on who you ask.

It is worth noting that the missional conversation gained attention as the church entered into a membership crisis. Numbers sharply declined, relevance waned, and people starting to look to the “experts” for answers. Missiologist David Bosch argues that this crisis is a good thing:

“Strictly speaking one ought to say that the Church is always in a state of crisis and that its greatest shortcoming is that it is only occasionally aware of it….This ought to be the case because of the abiding tension between the church’s essential nature and its empirical condition….And if the atmosphere of crisislessness still lingers on in many parts of the West, this is simply the result of a dangerous delusion. Let us also know that to encounter crisis is to encounter the possibility of truly being the Church.”

Brian McLaren spoke at Virginia Theological Seminary yesterday about the future of the church and the problems that face the world. At one point he drew a wonderful diagram on the chalkboard to explain how the world works. The basic idea is that three “gears” run the world: prosperity, security, and equity. These gears are driven by a narrative. For centuries, religion provided the narrative that drove the world, but in the last two centuries the narrative has shifted. In McLaren’s words, “Science has had a better story to tell.”

At some point, McLaren said, the Church shifted inward and the focus of our narrative became our own survival as an institution. Instead of developing a narrative that showed how the God of the Church is the God of science, we developed an “Us vs. Them” narrative of the Church versus the new, modern world.

We’ve grown comfortable telling our story only to ourselves with little concern for whether anyone else is hearing it, so new narratives have emerged to fill the void.

I’m sorry to start with some seemingly bad news, but it’s important that we start with a good understanding of where we actually are. Many of our churches exist without a clear mission. This is especially true in the mainline denominations and the Episcopal Church.

Some churches are focused on being inclusive for all people, some focus on serving the most needy in the community. Some parishes have great family programs, others have thriving young adult groups. Some churches have beautiful buildings, others use rented space.

For many of the churches that I have encountered, the stated goal or objective is different but the underlying mission is the same: to get more people in the door.

We are inclusive so that people will come to our church. We wear our church T-shirt when we volunteer so that people will come to our church. We put a witty slogan on our sign so that people will come to our church.

This is obviously a huge generalization. There are plenty of well-meaning and pure-intentioned people running programs throughout the church. However, it does generally seem that “success” for a church is often taken to mean increased membership or larger pledges.

This is where the missional conversation comes in. Being missional is about shifting from a defensive posture to an outward focused posture. It is a change in focus from getting people in the doors of the church to taking the church out to the people.

It is the shift from church-centered mission to God-centered mission. It is about being sent out rather than attracting folks to a building.

Stock photography wins again.

Stock photography wins again.

Darrell Guder, professor of Missional Theology at Princeton, says, “We have come to see that mission is not merely an activity of the church. Rather mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation.”

The attractional model of church is so ingrained that any talk of a different way is seen as an attack on the very nature of the church. This shift in thinking is not an attack, but a way of thinking and telling our story that is even deeper in our tradition and history than the attractional model.

It would be very easy to keep things going the way they are. It would require very little effort to stay in the attractional model and not challenge the status quo. That is not to say that being a pastor is easy in the attractional model, but there is much more certainty and a lot less risk in that way of doing things.

Alan Hirsch calls this the “missional impulse” which is an “outwardly bound movement from one community or individual to another. It is the outward thrust rooted in God’s mission that compels the church to reach a lost world.”

tumblr_m5zaceJRLI1qcf707o1_500

It is about sending rather than attracting.

Being missional involves letting go of a lot of preconceived notions and moving forward in faith. It requires a tolerance for messy processes and many new relationships. It requires patience.

In his book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, Alan Roxburgh gives a list of rules to guide the missional work of local churches based on the words of Jesus in Luke 10. These rules are practical and a couple of them can help us clarify the ideas/principles behind the missional effort:

1. Go Local: “…[T]he focus must be on the ordinary lives of the people of a local congregation through which the Spirit is shaping a new future…” and “…on the local contexts as the venues for discerning and engaging that future.”

2. Leave Your Baggage at Home: “More than anything else this is a gospel plea for the humanization of our relationships with others, rather than seeing the people of our neighborhoods as potential objects for our church marketing strategies (often called evangelism or outreach).”

3. Don’t Move from House to House: “….settle into the neighborhood, bloom where you’re planted, and stop imagining there’s a better place or the grass is greener on the other side of the fence….stay where you are and be present to the people among whom you live in your neighborhood.”

4. Eat What Is Set Before You: “[This]…is about our readiness to enter into the world of the other on his or her terms rather than our own….This rule calls us to a different way of being with people. It involves a readiness to be present with someone else in ways that meet them in their context and environment.”

5. Become Poets of the Ordinary: “As we enter the local, stay in that place, and learn to eat what is set before us, we find ourselves entering the stories and hearing the music of the other in ways we could never do if we relied on programs or the calculation of where someone is on a scale of readiness for the gospel.”

Roxburgh adds five more rules to the list, which I commend to you. These first five should give us a good idea of what a missional church looks like – which is to say, that it will look messy and confusing and complicated.

mmb

There is plenty of resistance from those who like things just the way they are.

Personally, I avoid things that are messy and confusing and complicated like the plaque, which may explain why I avoided this missional conversation for so long. It is so much easier to dismiss something as just another buzzword or passing fad than to actually engage with complicated ideas.

This work is hard and time consuming.

There is nothing efficient about being missional.

The next post in this series aims to put some theological meat on the bones outlined above. Using missiologists David Bosch and Leslie Newbigin, I’ll give some background and support for the ideas put forward by folks like Roxburgh, Hirsch, and McLaren.

There will be a short break in posts due to a personal retreat and spring break, but fear not! I will return.

Stay tuned.

What the Missional Movement is Not (Super Serial Post #1)

Short Reads

It may seem strange to start a series of posts on the missional movement by describing what it is NOT, but there is precedent in theological studies for taking the via negativa approach and it seems like the best way to cut through the fog surrounding this topic.

First things first, the missional movement is not a movement.

I know, I know – I have referred to it as such in the lines above and the introductory post to this series. If you’ll forgive me, that was a bit of a straw man.

As I mentioned in my original post on the missional church, there is a tendency to lump missional attitudes into the same category as many of the church growth trends that have come along in the past. It is very easy to write it off as another way consultants are trying to fill the pews of shrinking or empty churches.

“Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and there are only two people…”

The truth is that being missional is not a trend but is, instead, the true nature of the church.

In his book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, Alan Roxburgh tells a modern day parable about three old friends (pg. 31). These friends grew up together, spending endless hours together at play, at school, and everywhere in between. The three friends went to college together and spent many evening discussing their hopes and dreams late into the night. Through the many years they spent together, the three friends developed a relationship that was deeper than words. Each of their identities was formed and shaped by this rich relationship.

Over time, however, their relationship grew distant. The three kept in touch through social media and the occasional call. Every few years, the three would get together for a weekend to catch up and renew their connection.

One day, out of the blue and after several years without contact, the two friends received an email from the third inviting them to his house in California for several nights. The two made their plans to travel to the West Coast and when they arrived, their host sat them down for a feast.

Isn’t stock photography great?

The friends laughed and caught up with each other throughout the first night, but at some point in the evening the mood changed. The two friends sensed a heavy awkwardness had settled around the table as the host began to do most of the talking. He talked about his life, his questions, and his needs. Every question he asked was only so that he could further focus on his own interests. He seemed only interested in making himself seem more successful.

At the end of the night the two friends made their way back to their hotel and the host went to bed feeling great about the conversation and the evening as a whole.

So, what is the point of this parable?

According to Roxburgh, the three friends in the parable are Scripture, Church, and Culture. The first two friends are Scripture and Culture, while the third friend who hosted the other two for the reunion is the Church.

Being missional is not a movement because it is not about the church. Most blog posts and magazine pieces make the missional conversation solely about the church and what the church can do to grow itself. Too often we are like the third friend: inviting Scripture and Culture into the conversation only to further our own interests.

Church movements exist for the church – to increase their size or influence or relevance or whatever it may be. Being missional is not just another movement because it is about returning the three friends to their original relationship.

Roxburgh argues that the focus of the missional conversation is three-fold: Scripture, Church, and Culture. For too long we have pretending that the church has a monopoly on the Good News, as though we are the only way that God works in the world. The missional conversation starts with the assumption that God is already at work in the world, within and without the church.

Later in his book, Roxburgh says that the church has taken itself into a cul-de-sac with this inward focus. He says, “Church questions are at the forefront of our thinking, so we default to questions about what the church should be doing and what the church should look like.” We are wrong to think that a new movement or program will fix what ails the church in this time. Roxburgh goes on to say, “This is not something that can be ‘fixed’ with programs or discussions on church health or by appending the word missional to old habits.” (pg. 54).

Being missional is not about growing your church membership.

Being missional is not about growing your church membership.

So we have established that the missional church is not a trend or new fad, but is a return to the original calling and nature of the church. This should let you in on the fact that this series will not give you the three easy steps to become a “missional” church. This whole conversation is about changing our thinking and our view of the church. If becoming missionally focused brings more people to your parish or community, great. If you enter this conversation with the motivation of increasing church membership (or relevance or whatever), you are missing the point. The point is to stay true to our calling as Christians in the world.

Stay tuned for the next post, in which I will explore what this calling actually is.

Cliffhanger

“Go ye into all the world”: The Missional Church Movement (A Super Serial Set of Posts)

Short Reads

“Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.”

This inscription was written above the Great Commission window in the original 1881 chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary. The phrase, from Mark’s Gospel, inspired generations of seminarians and continues to be embedded in the culture of the seminary. It is our fundamental mission as Christians.

Featured image

I wrote a blog post a few months ago about the Missional Church movement and how it is more than a trend or church-growth plan. I tried to go beneath the catch phrases and sound bytes to show a bit of the theology and ecclesiology that undergirds the Missional movement.

Since writing that post I have accepted the call to serve as the Canon Missioner for Youth and Young Adults in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, beginning in June. The Diocese of Southwestern Virginia is a great group of Christians who have taken on this Missional conversation, thanks in part to their Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark Bourlakas.

The Diocese is very focused on shifting the Episcopal Church in Southwestern Virginia from an “attractional” stance to a Missional orientation while equipping the people and parishes of the Diocese to be missionaries and ambassadors of the Gospel in their communities.

I have the unique gift of being able to accept a call while still deep in my last semester of seminary. Because of this, I have developed an Independent Study (under the guidance of Dr. Lisa Kimball) that will explore the Missional movement as it relates to Episcopal youth and young adult ministry. I will study the history of the Missional movement and how it has been applied to the Anglican/Episcopal context. From there I will develop resources for Missional youth and young adult ministries that will available for use by parishes and Dioceses across the Episcopal Church.

This is the first of six blog posts that will cover these topics (hence the “serial” in the title). I’ve chosen blog posts over an academic research paper to make this information accessible for more people who can (hopefully) benefit from this conversation.

Featured image

I do hope that readers will leave comments, ask questions, and give suggestions for what you would like to see in this series. While primarily for my own edification, I want this work to help as many people as possible to see the what this Missional conversation is all about so that we can more effectively preach the Gospel to the whole world.

This post is brought to you by MailChimp*

Featured image

*MailChimp is not actually a sponsor.

4 Myths about Young Adults and Church

Short Reads

It seems like the heat has died down somewhat around Millennials and Young Adults. There was a stretch last year where it seemed like every blog post or magazine article had something to do with my beloved generation. We were either too lazy and self-centered or incredibly altruistic and compassionate. We were, at the same time, coddled by our parents and forced to fend for ourselves in a economic recession. Each blog post offered the secrets to tapping into this ‘market’ for companies, employers, and anyone else who stood to profit off any insights into the largest generation in America.

Church blogs were no different. Posts offered the new tips and tricks to get Millennials/Young Adults through the red doors of the church. Contemporary music, ancient hymns, bible studies in a bar, no church building, huge cathedrals. The tips and trick were legion. And they were oftentimes wrong.

They were wrong because of the premise with which they started. The idea that any large group of people can be boiled down to a blog post listing of characteristics and traits is foolish (I recognize the irony in that statement as I write a blog post listing). Millennials are the largest generation in America; there is no way that a blog post can sum up their collective interests or common attitudes.

To help spur this conversation on, I have complied a list of the most common myths that I have seen or heard about Millenials and Young Adults, especially when it comes to church:

1. Millennials are monolithic. As I mentioned above, there is no way to succinctly say what every Millennial wants or cares about and anyone who says that they know “what Millennials want” is a)lying or b)trying to sell you something. In the same way that no one can speak for every retiree or every baby boomer, no one can speak for every young adult. What this means for the church is that there is not one solution to the “young adult” problem. There is not one magic program or secret bible study curriculum or perfect liturgy that is going to have young adults flocking to your church.

2. Millennials aren’t interested in organized religion. The Emergent Church movement capitalized on the myth that the “church of the future” wouldn’t look anything like the institutional church that we all know. I contend that the Emergent Church movement blew up in popularity because of baby boomers and Gen X-ers, not Millennials. Many of the young adults I have talked to about the institutional church are fully aware of the sins of the past and the blunders of the recent decades, and yet, they are interested in being a part of the community and bringing about positive change from within the church. Organized religion is not going to suddenly disappear because young people aren’t interested. If anything, organized religion will disappear because it has lost sight of its original purpose and lost its soul. This is especially true of Christianity in America. The “Great Decline” could be linked to the  mainline churches losing their ‘saltiness’. Jesus warns that we (the Church) are the salt of the earth, but if we lose our saltiness we can never get it back and we will be thrown away. Millennials, for the most part, aren’t opposed to the institutional church, they just wish that we would embrace our saltiness. They are drawn to Jesus but they can’t seem to find the same attractive, “Other-ness” of Christ in the average church.

3. Millennials all want to hang out in bars. The newest trend in the mainline churches is to host bible studies or hymn-sings in local bars. “Theology on Tap”, started by the Catholic Church, was the first organized effort to take the church into the saloon. It seems to have all the things that the mainline churches love: alcohol, community, and a very clear way of saying that we are NOT like those other, prudish Christians. We’re cool. We’re hip. We can pray and drink at the same time. The issue is that not every single young adult loves hanging out in bars. Alcoholism is a problem for young adults, just like it is a problem for every other age group. In fact, many young adults come out of college with an extremely unhealthy relationship with alcohol. There are many young adults who are alcohol dependent, but have no idea that their drinking isn’t normal because of the current zeitgeist around alcohol. There are also young adults who just don’t like to drink or hang out in bars. Some think that the Church should be different from the culture, not just a copycat. How many folks, not just young adults, are automatically excluded from church events because they are held in bars or because alcohol is the underlying theme? An article in the June issue of Christianity Today calls on churches to reconsider their relationship with alcohol in light of the commandment to “love our neighbor”. If your neighbor (or parishioner or young adult seeker) is struggling with alcoholism, how loving is it to host a bible study in a bar? At what point do we recognize that we are sacrificing inclusion of all people for the sake of being ‘relevant’ and ‘cool’. If you are a young adult (or anyone) who thinks they might have a problem with alcohol, please follow this link.

4. Millennials can be attracted, if only we have the right [liturgy, programming, leadership, whatever]. The moment that the Church stops seeing Millennials as a group to be attracted is the moment that Millennials will feel comfortable in church. It feels wrong to talk about tricking people into coming to church, but that is essentially what churches do when they pretend to be something they are not to attract young adults. By adding programming and other things that are out of character for the local church, we become salespeople who are trying to repackage Jesus so that he is more palatable. The truth is this: Jesus doesn’t need our help attracting people. The Word of God has been calling folks to himself since the beginning, with or without the exciting new programs the Church has invented. Young Adults are not the target audience for a new marketing campaign, they are people who need the love and peace of God like everyone else. We cannot afford to be reductionist about the people in our churches, because the mission of the church is far bigger than Millennials – it is about the holy, ordinary people of God…of all ages. The source of most sin is disunity, which may be why on of Jesus’s last commandments is a call to unity. If we focus on the wide variety of people in our churches, of all ages and stages in life, perhaps we will see our unity and our saltiness return.

The Episcopal Church is doing just fine (sort-of)

Short Reads

Despite what the title of this post may imply, I am not a fact-denier and I do not have my head buried in the sand. I know all of the talk and blogs and tweets that are circulating about the decline of the Episcopal Church and the decline of the “mainline” denominations across the board. I do not deny that the numbers show a steady decline. I do not deny that the numbers are alarming for people who judge the church by attendance numbers. I do not deny any of this.

Did you catch what I did there?

The decline in attendance numbers are alarming for people who judge the church by attendance numbers. That’s it.

When did church become about how many people show up?

My reading of the New Testament tells me that church is much more about a group of people (two-two billion, the numbers are not whats important) that come together to share a meal, praise God, and then go out into the world, take care of the folks that can’t take care of themselves, and spread the Good News that death and the slavery of sin have been defeated.

Instead, for some reason, we only understand church as a building in which, for a healthy church, 100-500 people gather on Sunday mornings to do “the service”. If this truly is the meaning of the church then the Chicken Little’s throughout the church are right: the sky if falling!

But what if we let that image of the church die?

What if we let go of our need to be “successful” in the eyes of church growth experts and ecclesiological  abacus movers?

What if we found our success in the strength of the relationships formed within our church communities? What if the sign of a healthy church was the service that happened apart from Sunday mornings?

My last post was on the “Doomsday Preppers” of the church. With this new post it seems that I am holding the bludger and preparing to beat the poor, deceased horse.

I’m sorry if you are tired of hearing about church decline.

I am going to keep writing on it until we finally stop looking at the declining numbers and then immediately to our navels for the solution. There is no secret fix or ten step blog post that is going to “save” the church. (*Full disclosure: my last post contained a list. So did the one before that. I am not averse to blog lists in general, only when the list proposes a solution to an imaginary or misconstrued problem.)

The church has never been about success or numbers or strategic growth.

Unless I have greatly misunderstood my professors in my time so far in seminary it would appear that the church is all about failures, small numbers, and inefficient growth. If we really want the church to stop shrinking and to grow we should start living like the church. We should join people who are radically different from ourselves to worship, share, and serve. We should get out of our cells of individual convenience and into the untidy, complicated mess of community.

For all of the talk of decline, there are so many wonderful Episcopal churches that are doing amazing things. Big churches, small churches, urban, rural, “missional” (whatever that word means) ministries of all shapes and sizes.

The Episcopal Church has got it all. If we showed off what we have and refused to add another voice to the never ending waterfall of pessimism and cynicism about church numbers, maybe we would see our churches grow.

The Episcopal Church is doing just fine, as long as you judge the success of a church based on lives changed and good work done in the name of Christ.

For those still hung up on attendance numbers, I pray that God would so enlarge your heart that you would see the people in front of you. If there is no one in your church on a Sunday I have good news for you – there are a ton of folks out in the world who could use your help (yes you), so lets get to work.