It’s the end of the church as we know it, and I feel fine

Those who are 30-something or fans of early 90’s pop-rock will know the title of my post is a variation on one of R.E.M.’s best songs.  If not, see below.  <grin>

It’s been several weeks since I’ve posted.  I’m still on a roller coaster ride.  I’ve spent several grueling weeks on my dissertation…reading, writing chapters, meeting with my adviser, and realizing I have alot more work to do.    And then, for a moment, everything has stopped.  I’ve had a couple weeks to attend church camps, relish in the Spirit, and partake in God’s community.  I’ve filled up, hanging out with people who know ‘church’ and make the effort to experience life together and contribute to the hard work of community.   The reunions (family camps) I went to in Chicago and Samish Island, WA were wonderful.    These experiences have made me realize something about myself:  While I AM some kind of academic, contemplative, and loner in my walk with God, I’m also an eat-em-up, extroverted, relational type who loves community wherever I can find it.   Between these two poles, my life if both rich and productive – and strangely uncomfortable and disorienting.

So, what’s this got to with “It’s the end of the church/world as we know it?”    For life in real time, everything.

As I continue to speak in congregations and watch congregational life struggle, there’s an ongoing realization that the church is significantly changing.   In ways both clear and unclear, subtle and profound, the church is facing its mortality.  Not as a “totality.”  I mean, it’s not like Christianity or the Community of Christ is going to go away.   Yet, without a doubt, in many corners of the church “it’s the end of the church as we know it.”  And, frankly, I feel fine.

Do I feel fine because I’m apathetic?   Come on.   If I was apathetic, I’d left long ago with my peers.

I feel fine because I still experience God’s Spirit alive in the church and among people who worship and expect Christ’s blessings, even as congregations and camps shrink.  Also, I’m aware that all this decline, the divisive issues, and sense of change in the church is bringing incredible opportunities to we church-types…new opportunities for honesty, freedom, and real creativity.  Facing the end of the church as we know it really makes we church-folk face our demons, tests our faith, and checks us on what we’ve really put our faith in anyway.

The future, if it is truly God’s, doesn’t belong to us anyway.  If we believed that, there would not be less anxiety.   But, I think ‘the church’ would spend alot less time trying to ‘manage’ itself and, instead, find ways to jump into the flow of spiritual opportunities, new insight, and expression flowing through the church.   I think we’d find that there’d be alot of old with the new, instead of one or the other.    It’s because the flow’s movement holds both parts:  the downward spiral of decline and demise, as well as the vortex of new life and religious expression.  This is the flow of spirituality and divine opportunities – its insight and expressions – overtaking denominationalism and corporate Christianity.

Against the alarmists who worship in the church of certainty, we are not facing the death of institutions, tradition, or faith.  Rather, we are witnessing their remaking.

It’s tempting to try to hold things together in change, even if you trust what’s driving things.  It’s especially tempting if your identity is wrapped up in the familiar and what has been.   Conservatism, whether fundamentalist or liberal, is about preserving things.   Both, however, blunt the Spirit of creation and our opportunities for amplifying our faith.  Both stunt the growth of profound revelation and spiritual discovery holding the future of divine life and Jesus-ology.

After all, Christianity is a messianic faith.  Therefore, it is and always will be hope for what and who is … to come.

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11 responses to “It’s the end of the church as we know it, and I feel fine

  1. I’m 50 something and knew what your title referred to! Love the REM.

    Like your thoughts and I too await the “end” of what we have been and keep my hope alive for the church that is to come and always will be (changing).

    PS you might want to edit your writing for the permanent record 🙂
    I know you were probably rushing to get your thoughts recorded!

    leon

  2. Good thoughts. However, hasn’t the “church” always been in change? Isn’t change inevitable? As new personalities become a part of “the community” doesn’t that to some degree always bring change? Even those “fundamental” communities of faith have changed over the years, have they not? I think what is important is that the message of joy, hope, love, peace and grace remains the same. Only the package or vessel in which it is delivered may change. Of course the institutional church is a part of that vessel I believe. And as a result must and has changed over the years. Without the sense of community or relationship, I don’t think that the “church” can survive in any environment. I hope that my comments are in line with your intent in this blog(?) It’s just that I feel that we must allow the Spirit to fill us and lead us to “what is most important” and what our “next step” should be. Thanik you for your thoughts. I really appreciate your blog. You and Margo are excellent writers. Love you both – Dad

  3. Matt, I appreciate your thoughts. Sometimes the changes don’t come quick enough. I have to remember to wait upon the Lord and let God’s Spirit work.

  4. Thanks Matt for your post. I like the way you write and articulate yourself and I think in many ways, you are right on. As an allegory to church life, I work with teenagers a lot and too often (or not enough:) realize, that even though there are only about 7-10 years that separate us, there are huge differences in the ways we use technology–i.e. facebook, flash games, text, and twitter. These societal changes have happened really fast. Our models of the way church works are comparably archaic when considering the demands/needs of a world-wide church and societal/generational differences. It’s like trying to drive a Model-A in space.
    I think for we church-folk to move forward, we’ll need to be insightful/visionary enough to adapt to the changing world by changing our structure and theology.
    peace & courage~bob

  5. Some years back, Bob and I took our eldest son, who has been away from the church for twenty years, to church with us in his hometown. Afterward, he said, “that wasn’t the church I was raised in”. and we both said, “That’s good!” I told him he had been away from the church so long and so many changes had occurred that he didn’t see the gradual changes over those years. No wonder he didn’t recognize it.

    I’m glad the church chnaged and continues to change. I wouldn’t still be with it if it had stayed the same.

  6. Matt,

    Another 50 something that loves REM. Very insightful and thoughtful comments about change in the church. I think it holds true for all facets of our lives. We often think that change is occurring and bam! we are at the end of it and something new just begins to take place. I like your image of change as two parts – “the downward spiral of decline and demise, [and] the vortex of new life…expression.”

    I like how Peter Block talks about change as transformation. Change congers up images of “this, or, that, while transformation brings images of the old ways entangling themselves in the new ways where the old doesn’t necessarily end entirely or disappear but is transformed by utilizing all that has gone before while infusing the new that comes along.

    I agree with Terry above that change has always been happening but it’s how it tends to take place that needs to be different. Peter Block again, (can you tell I have some respect for him?) says this about transformation – “Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.” I think we try to force change sometimes – actually a lot of times, particularly in the church. We do that by saying: How can we change the church for the better? or How can we be the church so it meets the needs of people better. We ask a lot of “How” questions. Peter’s quote above comes from his book, The Answer to How is Yes, where Peter asks us to ask different kinds of questions than the “how” questions to be transformed.

    So it come down to how those who are in management roles in the church, or wherever, to look at management differently. Peter again, (I really like this guy!) defines management as the process of bringing opportunities to the group so they can act on them with their combined best wisdom. That is vastly different than how we manage in the world today. It is a true paradigm change to how we mange in the church.

    Keep it up Matt. I appreciate you so much in your struggles to live out your discipleship. I am glad that we are on the path together!

  7. identify with ur thots bro. i have one of those with or without you relationships with church. i stay bc i love her husband but im wondering when all the talk about change is going to translate into people actively pursuing jesus.

  8. Matt:

    Although it’s been eight years since we changed the name of the church and put the word “Community” in it, I believe we have yet to move too much beyond a predominately institutional (and headquarters-oriented) focus. But now after the second major downsizing of staff in three years (which can’t help but be reflected in program, resource development, and ministry of various kinds) that may change significantly. At the very least, institutional leaders could come to realize their voices are being joined by other prophetic ones in unexpected places.

    In a few days I will officially become a church “retiree” rather than employee. I’ve been processing this for a couple months now and realize that however much I’d prefer my life to be more settled, perhaps it’s the presence of the Spirit that keeps that from happening. Who knew, eh?

    On a side note, I’ve taken your suggestion from earlier this year (and similar promptings from others) to blog (http://isaacspress.wordpress.com), particularly about my ongoing relationship with our faith community. And so I’ve moved from “Endnotes” to “ForeWords.” Well, it’s a start.

  9. I just wish the church would make it’s changes faster. The leadership have been fearfully dragging their feet now for several years. The conference made it pretty clear the direction the members want to go. It’s the leadership that drags their feet.

    I have waited for a couple of years now to read Mark Scherer’s new history of the church. The leadership is dragging it’s feet on it’s release. First it was “after Conference” now it’s “who knows”.

    The Conference made it pretty clear they wanted to deal with the homosexual issue now that folks are coming out right and left but the church is waiting for consensus. We waited twenty years for consensus on ordaining women. Will it be another twenty years to wait on marry homosexuals in states where it is legal and ordaining those homosexuals with a call? I hope not. I think President Smith made it pretty clear that is we wait for consensus, we will wait forever. I think Grant got the message. Unfortunately it seems Steve did not get the message.

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