Everyday as I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed I see all sorts of shared posts about “The 10 Things The Church Needs to do to Survive” or “8 Ways That the Church is Missing the Mark” or countless other stories in the same ilk. I’m not surprised, and in fact I’ve been as guilty as anyone of spreading those stories and driving up the page views which spurs authors on to creating new versions of the same thing (can anyone say Carey Neiuwhof?). Don’t get me wrong — I’ve enjoyed these stories and they’ve spurred much thought (especially Carey’s regular lists). Yet more and more I find myself thinking that we are spending too much time talking about the church rather than getting on with the work of being the church.
Yes, I admit that I am suffering from church talk fatigue. That’s a problem of course for a guy like me because I’m a partner in a company that creates websites that talk about the church. I’ve been an analyzer and a commentator, and contributed my own words about what my own United Methodist Church should do. It’s great fun for someone like me to deconstruct and sometimes even reconstruct in idealistic and hypothetical ways about where we’ve gone wrong and where we need to go from here.
And yes, I confess that I even do it in my own ministry. The fact for many of us is that we ARE serving churches that have experienced numerical and energy decline over the years, and we’ve been tasked to figure out the special sauce that will stem that decline and turn those congregations on the road to vitality. That is, I think, what we all want to do, and in the midst of that challenge it’s easy to spend much time navel gazing trying to figure out how we got here so that we can head in the opposite direction, and we end up developing all sorts of theories and practices about the things that will move us forward.
But my fear is that in all the analysis, all the navel gazing, all the lists on leadership and preaching and hospitality we are talking ourselves to death.
Look, I know all the challenges the congregation I serve faces.
I know that our surrounding community is in decline and filled with much poverty and despair.
I know that we have far more building than we probably need and that we are going to have to find creative partnerships so that the physical plant doesn’t sink us.
I know that our signage is inadequate, that the congregation is aging, that we struggle at times to be truly open and inviting, and that we fail to embrace the diversity that surrounds us.
I can spend all my days analyzing what we are doing wrong and coming up with the hundred things that we need to do to turn things around.
I can spend my time simply being a Christian and leading the church that I serve to simply be the church, that is a community that is rooted in the Great Commandment of love of God and neighbor, a community which is engaged in connecting people to God, one another, and the world in profound ways, and a community which lives out the teachings of Jesus in the real world.
Maybe it’s time to spend our time being the church instead of talking about what we should be?
Maybe we need to be engaged in the practices that make the church the church — prayer, worship, sacrament, study, and the belief that God is in our midst and offers hope to the world?
Maybe we need to stop talking about how one or the other of us falls short in our sinfulness and brokenness and instead simply need to acknowledge that we all are broken and in need of God’s grace?
Maybe we need to simply acknowledge that our places of power and privilege in the broader society are simply no more and will likely never come back so that we can be focused on offering love and grace rather than trying to build programs and empires?
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that we should think about vitality or even church growth, but I am saying that those are by-products of a community that is focused on being the church, not talking about what the church should be.
I don’t know . . . maybe all this talk about the church is helpful.
But I’m finding for me more and more it’s getting in the way of my ability to simply be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
How about you?