We have heard it said that adversity brings out both the best and the worst in who we really are. The times are telling on all of us, as we’ve had plenty of opportunity to reckon with ourselves over the last year. The compounded crises that we have encountered are revealing our substance, our character, our convictions, and our sense of calling. For all of our lofty, spiritual, language – we are right smack in the middle of a gut-check. We have been made to see things as they are apart from our hopeful aspirations. What we have discovered is unsettling and disillusioning.
Our rose-colored glasses are broken.
- We often declare that “church is not about the building… it is not an event… it is not a club… blah blah blah…” but our actual acceptance of this reality is being tested. Through the pandemic we have learned that our buildings are not as much a necessity as we thought them to be and they are in some cases a liability. How do we liberate ourselves while leveraging these sacred spaces in a way that is more faithful and sustainable?
- We often declare that we did not enter ministry for money, but as our margins become narrower, this assertion is buckling under the weight of real economic uncertainty. How do we approach this work when our economy doesn’t support our old institutional models for professional clergy?
- We have often in our professional circles lamented the trappings of “church work” that are often at odds with and undermine the “work of the church.” The pandemic has liberated us of from much of this institutional maintenance. How have we shifted or our energy to pursue what we claim to be passionate about? Was this just idealistic ranting?
- Our “come and see” model has been broken for a long time. While it provided a measure success (if by success we mean maintaining the status quo) for many of us – so long as we sat in positions of privilege in our respective communities – this deference is eroded. Can we accept being in the margins? Can we learn more faithful ways of being from other voices and other models?
- Our materialism and performance-driven economies have distorted how we measure success. We have clung to graceless, death-dealing systems for the sake of respectability where there is no Sabbath. There has to be a better way. Can we divest ourselves from these systems without losing ourselves? Can we lead others in this difficult transition?
In a word, the stuff has hit the fan more quickly than anyone could have imagined. Even those of us at The Ministry Collaborative, who have been talking about the rate of change for years now, were caught a bit off guard by how things have accelerated over the last year.
The scriptures that we have relied on as a lens to interpret our world and to judge our culture have become a mirror revealing our own pride, our arrogance, our complacency, and our lack. Everything is on the table. Adversity stripped away our illusions. This past year’s trials continue to reveal the tenuous condition of our churches and even our fragile personal sense of calling.
We are bereft of the security, comfort, or certainty that we thought our faith was supposed to provide. And for those of us serving the church, it feels like the earth is shifting beneath our feet. We are confronted with what’s going on (or not going on) with our buildings. We are forced to address our errant institutional assumptions and our flawed economic models for ministry. We are in the throes of a full-on identity crisis, a crisis of integrity, and a crisis of faith, but we have an opportunity.
With these deep and troubling challenges, we cannot simply respond with how-to guides or manage our way through these crises. These obstacles have afforded us the occasion to look deeply into ourselves, to remember who we are, to remember who GOD is, and to realign ourselves to His purposes. These tough times demand repentance. These are tough times, and we need to ask and answer some tougher questions.
j 1 Kgs. 3:9–12; Prov. 2:3–6
k See Matt. 7:7
l Prov. 28:5