This morning I was catching up on my twitter feed after walking Micah to school and happened upon a link to this article by Shane Raynor on his blog "The Wesley Report." (Side Note about "The Wesley Report." While I miss the daily links to Methodist blogs around the web that Shane used to do, I really like him sharing his voice on subjects--plus I know the work of doing all those links had to be consuming) To sum it up, Shane writes briefly about why he is supportive of new church starts.
One particular paragraph Shane wrote stuck out:
Established churches are often full of history, entrenched families, power struggles and politics, especially smaller churches. Even congregations that express a desire to grow sometimes aren't willing to make the sacrifices to do it, especially when those sacrifices involve giving up personal sacred cows. Pastors who try to grow churches that have "old-school" mindsets will usually spend most of their energy trying to convince the congregation to grow rather than actually making it grow. That's why more than a few of our "churches" are really chapels, and the sad reality is, many of these churches will never be more than what they are now.I think Raynor is right in his assessment and it is a subject I have been struggling with internally since I entered appointed ministry in the summer of 2007.
Of course, God works in mysterious ways, and this morning I happened to be reading Luke 4-6 for a bible study I am doing with a pastor friend of mine from here in Winona. I had The Message translation on hand and started to read and came to Luke 5:36-39:
"No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don't put wine in old, cracked bottles; you get strong, clean bottles for your fresh vintage wine. And no one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine."I have heard this passage hundreds of times and read it hundreds of time, but this morning it took on new meaning for me. The quotes from Jesus come in response to those at Simon's house who are asking why he is always spending his time at "parties" (Peterson's translation) instead of being like John's disciples and the Pharisees who were known for "keeping fasts and saying prayers." Contextually, I think we could easily translate this into those at Simon's house asking, "Jesus, why are you always hanging out at bars, restaurants, and coffee shops? Why aren't you in the church like all those other pastors?"
That brings me to the way God spoke to my heart in terms of this subject. What if a big issue facing the church is that we are trying to renew from the inside instead of renew from the outside? Let me explain. God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, brought about renewal by looking outside the normal paradigm of the Judaism system. God didn't do it through the Pharisees or Sadducees, he did it through fisherman, tax collectors, etc. The lives of these ordinary individuals outside the religious system brought about a movement that changed the landscape eventually. I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that what Jesus is saying about the fabrics and wine containers points to this reality. (Does this mean that to push the analogy if God had used the system we would have ended up with a blown up system and the movement dead like standing around with some broken wine skin and our wine absorbed into the dirt below never to be enjoyed?)
This brings about a string of questions that are running through my head...
Are we trying to patch up our old work clothes (churches in the current system) with fine silk (clergy being trained in the missional renewal mindset)? How is it working? Are churches being renewed (is the fabric holding) or is the patch being ripped off the old clothes (either the clergy adapting to the systems desires or leaving the system)?
Does the narrative within the Gospel of Luke challenge us to think about how we are spending our resources? Seriously, think about this: How much money of ours is used to "maintain" and how much is used to "advance the Gospel" in tangible ways that show fruit?
Are the new church starts and our growing faith communities in places outside the United States within Methodism the hope for renewal as they draw new people into transformed lives that witness to those within the current system?
Could renewal come from within churches by using a "church within a church" model that allowed missional renewal to occur? Is this possible since it still seems one has to overcome the "chapel" mentality of the current church it would be within?
Just thoughts and questions running through my head on this day....
Coming Tomorrow: A Vision of Intentional Renewal Strategy