I just returned from a week of study leave, holed up in a cabin off the grid in northern California, where I devoured 5 mostly recently published books about churches facing decline and the hope of congregational renewal.
I will say I was encouraged in my fundamental conviction that God is always up to something new, even something great! As one author put it, even for congregations for whom slow death is the only possibility – God is still present and at work!
Of course, in the face of decline there is no simple, easy path to discovering the way forward (and, furthermore, there is no guarantee that what is to come will be continuous with what used to be – meaning things will likely look very different in the future.)
As one author reminded me, the predicament of the unclear and convoluted path forward that we and many other churches “find ourselves in is ultimately the fault of the Holy Spirit.” Sounds kind of shocking, but I kind of like that – blaming the Holy Spirit! – because let’s face it, perhaps much to the chagrin of us Presbyterians, “the Holy Spirit never does anything decently and in order.”
Of course, it’s also true that the “the Holy Spirit is our only true guide.” But on the road to discernment and the discovery of the new thing God is up to, the author concludes, “If we are attentive to the Holy Spirit, we need to be comfortable with chaos and willing to embrace disorder…”
Yep that’s what we’ve got going – if not chaos, then a little confusion, a little disorder, a little not knowing. The Holy Spirit in charge. Let’s keep helping each other be ok with that!
Just a heads up that this week’s sermon text, Matthew 20:1-16, is another parable of Jesus, one of those little ticking time-bombs that sort of explodes with meaning. This one we might struggle with a bit: is it bad news…or good news… What do you think?
See you Sunday!
Grace and peace,