“God is actively dis-establishing the church in America.”
That line in last week’s article garnered some significant reaction, ranging from relief to gratitude to annoyance to rejection.
“Numbers still matter – Jesus grew the church.”
“Saying God is doing this takes away our need to do anything – that’s not right.”
“That sounds hopeless.”
I see it as good news. Everything we receive from God is a precious gift, even if it is a gift that causes us some wrestling and re-orientation. But these reactions are understandable and most of us have expressed such thoughts many times along our journey as pastors or congregation leaders. The feelings of wrestling and re-orientation are real. Much of this feels like responses of the early followers of Jesus in the Book of Acts. Lots of wrestling there. Tons of re-orientation in light of Pentecost. But far from being an abdication of our agency or responsibility, I believe God is offering us freedom to put down roles of supporting and abetting the prevailing culture that never really suited the church, so that we are ever more ready to live the gospel with grace and hope and joy.
Recently, Seth Godin wrote in his blog:
“There are two polar opposites: Staying still and Breaking. It’s easy to visualize each end of the axis, whatever the activity. In between is stretching.
Stretching is growth. Extending our reach. Becoming more resilient, limber and powerful. Stretching hurts a bit, and maybe leaves us just a little bit sore. But then, tomorrow, we can stretch further than we could yesterday. Because stretching compounds. If you’re afraid of breaking, the answer isn’t to stay still. No, if you’re afraid of breaking, the answer is to dedicate yourself to stretching.”
To say that God is lovingly at work changing the church’s relationship with “the establishment” in current culture isn’t an invitation to abandon the church, or stand still, or give up. It’s an invitation to stretch—with and for God. That’s the best invitation the church could possibly receive.