Friday, January 18, 2008

Know Thyself?

For two years I was an interim pastor of the church where I did my seminary's mentored ministry requirement. The pastor there was a great guy, and still a friend, and the Church wanted to test me out to see if I would be a long-term replacement there. For several reasons which I will not go into right now, the Church decided that I wasn't "the guy" and I ended up back in the Philly area at a Church that still has yet to fall into the decay that little church in MA had suffered.

Well, that church continued to decay, and last summer they decided to close up shop for good. It's sad, that was the church I got ordained in, but at the same time the system was so dysfunctional that it had ceased being a blessing to the community and ended up (usually inadvertently) wounding people who came into their midst. Let me be very clear - there were some wonderful people at the church, the system of the place was the culprit. It was a system that many of the people who made it up weren't able to examine critically - and that inability ended up choking the church to death.

Other than being in contact with several friends who remained at the church after I moved, I really didn't say up with the goings on there. I've not blogged on it, but after I saw this newspaper report on the closing of the Church I thought I'd need to make a short comment reflecting on this comment from the article:

We have been, like many churches in the New England area, losing members for one reason or another. People are moving out, they’re changing their perspectives on religion and so forth, but whatever the reason, our membership has been dropping throughout the last several years...
What this quote tells me, even after the church collapsed out from under the remaining members, is that the folks of that church still don't realize how badly their system was screwed up. People are changing their views on religion, that's not in question, but the the congregation did nothing to try and communicate or be in conversation with these new views. Also, the only people who "moved out" were long-term families of that church. The reality is that the population of the town has just about quadrupled over the last 20 years. Again, this church did nothing to reach out to this entire new population that expanded their town. When I lived there, I used to say, "The people who grew up here don't even think these newer families even exist." This quote just confirms that comment for me.

So why bother posting this? Because I want to encourage people to the difficult, but absolutely necessary, work of critical self-reflection. We all need to take the bold step of trying to see the systems we participate in from the perspective of "outsiders." Otherwise, we'll just keep on the path we're on, caught in our various ruts, and when thinks aren't going well we'll just sit back and blame the world, instead of our own interaction with it.

Jesus requires more from us than that.

1 comment:

Debra said...

You are so right. So many times I've warned my congregation that it's not enough to weep and gnash teeth over the culture's encroachment. It's time for us to get back into a conversation in as many ways as possible. Thanks for the inspiration!