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.

Negativity.

Short Reads

At this moment in my life I have no time for negativity. I have found that my witness does not work if I am constantly negative or snarky. This does not keep negativity from creeping in from time to time, but like fleeting thoughts during meditation, I try to acknowledge it and let it pass.

It seems that negativity has overtaken our culture. There seems to be nothing but bad news. Brokenness. Pain. Suffering.

Terrorist attacks, war, natural disasters, murders.

One glance at any news source paints a picture of a world that is in desperate need of some cheering up.

So we have things like this and this and even this.

We look for anything to cheer us up for a few minutes. And then it’s over. And then we ridicule it and bury it in negativity.

There are entire television programs that revolve around making fun of popular videos and quasi-popular people. Tune in to one of these shows and you can laugh away your own pain and sadness at the expense of someone else.

This brings me to something I heard in the last few weeks that changes everything:

When interacting with another person just assume that they are doing the best they can.

If you meet someone who is different or other or “less than”, try to remind yourself that they are (most-likely) doing the best they can in their specific situation.

There have been times in my life that I look back on and wonder, “What in the world was I thinking?” I can’t know for sure what I was thinking, but I would venture a guess that I was doing the best that I could at that moment.

I just finished a great book by Jonathan Martin called Prototype. The premise of the book is that Jesus is the prototype for the perfect human, in part because he is the Son of God, but also because he never lost sight of his “belovedness”. When Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism, God says, “This is my beloved.”

The thing is, God calls us all beloved. We just have a tendency to forget our own name.

The world is so negative and the focus, more and more, seems to be on “spinning” the truth.

We create new avatars for ourselves online. We make ourselves into someone that we are not, mostly because we have completely forgotten who we are, but here is the Truth that doesn’t need to be “spun”:

You are God’s beloved.

When you operate out of the knowledge that you are beloved by the Creator of the universe, in spite of your failings and missteps, there is nothing that the negativity of the culture can do to you. You have conquered the death that this world is trying to sell you.

This is the Good News:

You are loved. You are good. You are wanted.

When everything in the world pulls you toward negativity and shame, you can rest in the knowledge that you are beloved of God and there is nothing that anyone can do to change it.

If that doesn’t cheer you up, maybe this will help.