by Rick Bundschuh
There’s a lot of trash talk and hand wringing about the “church” floating around the various blogs and Internet sites these days.
Some are openly hostile to anything that has the “O” smell (as in organized) about it.
Some lambast the high level of professionalism and performance that is part and parcel of many larger churches. (Pump in more fog onstage, please.)
Some take the Chicken Little approach and warn us of how the sky is falling with millennial-aged folks and the rise of the people who are now “over” church.
Not a few grouse about any church that dares to grow past the size that could fit in a living room.
Almost weekly there is a dire announcement about how churches are closing or losing members.
And some, including this writer, warn that the church needs to be fluid in its method (but not its foundational beliefs) if we hope to effectively connect with today’s culture and, in particular, secular culture.
Criticism is seemingly everywhere, and practical advice hardly anywhere. And yet in spite of the lack of helpful suggestions, I believe that many of the observations of the critics of the church should be seriously considered. The head-in-the-sand approach has never served the church of the past well.
Of course a lot of us have forgotten (or maybe were never around) when the typical church conducted its work in a cheesy, sad-sack manner where the idea of aiming at high quality and professionalism never hit the radar of anyone’s thinking.
Many of us have no memory of the hand wringing that went on in the early sixties as churches lamented the loss of their young people to the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. (The then relatively novel position of “Youth Minister” became ubiquitous because of it.)
Few even recall the “worship wars” of the eighties when some members stormed out of their local church because they dared to bring the chief musical instrument of Satan, the drum set, into the sanctuary of God.
Somehow God seemed to intervene in the worst of the “woe are we” times.
Out of nowhere—unplanned, spontaneous, and without awareness of any others doing the same—what we now call the Jesus Movement sprouted up organically and brought both craziness and vitality to a church that had grown rather stale.
Taking the Christian music industry by surprise, simple worship songs led to a rock and roll format that sprouted up inside churches a few decades ago, creating a new canon of powerful musical offering to the King of Kings.
As I watch the travail and twisting about the future of the church in our current decade, I have this odd sense that everything is going to be all right. Yes, some churches will implode, become frozen or fossilized, and lose their ability to connect with a quickly changing culture.
But some (perhaps many), alerted by the wind of the Spirit, will learn to innovate while still holding on to historic Christian orthodoxy. More than a few will invent ways that we can’t even imagine to draw people toward Christ and into genuine community with each other.
I see a church, for all its warts, bumbling, and shortcomings, as Christ’s church, his beloved. And I don’t think he will easily abandon it.
The way we do things in church will have their seasons.
We no longer rent pews or have someone assigned to use a feather on a pole to tickle those falling asleep in church. Hymnbooks have gone the way of the Dodo bird, as have (for the most part) Sunday evening church services and Wednesday night prayer meetings.
They have been replaced by technology or activities that make more sense to the culture we live in. And we can expect that the way we do things in church right now are not icons to preserve, but merely our best attempts at making the Gospel message relevant to our friends, family, and neighbors.
And yes, much of my career in church and in writing about the church has been in the role of a scout, beckoning the church to take a different, more effective route to their goal. Admittedly, it can be frustrating to see the church roll on by, trying to reach the future generations by doing the same tired old thing that hasn’t worked well for a long time.
But I am still bullish on the church. I think we are going to be just fine…maybe very different, but just fine.