Since I started this blog I noticed a very strange temptation to look back and evaluate my past to death. I even scrapped a very tough article entitled ‘Fundamentalists Anonymous’ after working on it for several hours. It comes a time, I think, when you have let go of the past, get over it, and look into the future.
I admit that I’m a bit troubled by the temptations which this blog are springing on me, especially when it is so widely accessible, and people from my past are constantly shocked by how far I moved on in my thinking from a fundamentalist position to a progressive and inquisitive one. To be dragged into endless discussions about what made me move on is very unattractive to me, not to mention painful because of memories I’d rather leave behind.
After six months of my ‘probationary year’, the last stage in the training for the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament, I find myself compelled to look into the future and to try to anticipate as best I can where the church will be, or rather where it should move. More and more I become convinced that the traditional vision of formal Sunday worship is painfully foreign to non-church people, and that there is little which could attract them to it. I read recently that where the church experiences growth in the world, this is on the basis of a 95% rate of transfers from other denominations. There are very few non-church people being attracted into the church.
One reason for this, I believe, is that church is very scary for many people on the outside. We acknowledge that theologically the church is supposed to be about grace and compassion, thus offering the best solution to the biggest problem people seem to be experiencing – that of guilt. And yet, people are not rushing in to get their problem solved, possibly because we operate with a strangely contradictory theology of ‘graceful God – vengeful God’. As far as the people outside are concerned, the church hasn’t made up its mind about that. And so people ask: “What’s the use of going to church?” That is true especially since the church is seen as a place where they will be made to feel even more guilty than they already feel. Granted, this is only one of the problems, of course, and an oversimplification it may be, but it is one of the biggest ones I think.
But I also think we suffer from too much formalism. I see the future of the church in new and emerging expressions centered around conversation and interaction. I believe in a few decades we will see the church moving towards alternative expressions to Sunday morning formal services. They will remain more or less as they are for another hundred or so years, but the focus of the church will have to be on a more organic, missional and conversational expression of community life.
I’m not talking about reinventing Sunday services, or repackaging them with contemporary music and multi-media gimmicks. Oh no. I’ve been down that road before. It’s nice, but it ultimately misses the mark. Theology and worship focuses too much on a top-down model. The expert prepares worship and the amateurs endure it. That model will have to go soon, or the church will fail to experience growth from outside of its present constituency.
What we will see in the near future, I think, is that many churches will experiment with emerging ministries alongside Sunday worship services, focusing more and more resources on these ministries. I’m so glad I’m involved in parish ministry, which is the best environment to attempt such exciting ministries in the future. There is a lot of great stuff going on in many churches today, which gives me a reason to be hopeful, and fills me with a sense of excitement and sweet anxiety…