The Sky is Falling, the Sky is Falling! (Or Not!)

OK, the sky isn’t falling. But if you read each and every article declaring the death of the Church in the US you’d be pretty sure the sky is falling.

I’m not big on New Years resolutions. But I’m going to try to make and keep one here. I am not going to post a blog article this year (2015) about the imminent death of the Church. I’m not going to allow myself to sink into what I am beginning to feel is a narcissistic and counter productive activity of talking about how bad everything is going in the church with membership, or reaching young people, or losing people, or other negative membership trends. Why? Because I believe we actually can do the Church harm by spiraling into this negative navel gazing preoccupation.

I remember some years ago I joined an organization with a long history of public service. I usually join at least one community organization when I move to a new local church as a means to get to know people outside of my church and serve my community in another way. Right after I joined this group an older member of the organization came up to me and said, “Hey, I’m sure glad to have you. This club is dying. We just get so few new members. Your generation may be the last generation in this group. Man am I glad you are here to take over before we die.” Or words almost exactly like that.

I was seriously tempted to ask for my dues back and walk out the door. And that is what I think we are doing to young Christians and newer church members with our “Sky is Falling” and “death tsunami” style prognostications. We are telling people, “don’t come here, we are going under.” “Don’t come here, we are desperate for membership.” “Don’t come here, we need you more than you need the gospel we are offering.” When the truth is that the Church is not dying. Instead we are panicking about the future of our familiar institutions as if that is all there is to God’s Church.

We are also, quite mistakenly, placing the future of the kingdom of God in the hands of statistics, membership campaigns, and numbers games rather than in the hands of the God who grants the Church its existence by God’s grace.

We are just coming out of the Christmas Season in which we are talking about how God took a poor unknown couple from a little counted on family to parent the savior of the world. This savior was born in obscurity without a dime or even a hotel room to His name. This same Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, turned the world upside down.

When did the future of God’s Church ever have to do with us being able be a success?

We need to stop talking about what we cannot do and return to talking about what God is doing and can do. It is only by God’s grace that the Church exists. It is only by God’s grace that we have ever been able to serve God and others. It is only by God’s grace that we will ever move into the future. It is only by God’s grace that the Church will live on as long as God wants it to.

1 God of grace and God of glory,
on thy people pour thy power;
crown thine ancient church’s story;
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.

2 Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

3 Cure thy children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to thy control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.

4 Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore.
Let the gift of thy salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving thee whom we adore,
serving thee whom we adore.

(Harry Emerson Fosdick)

2 thoughts on “The Sky is Falling, the Sky is Falling! (Or Not!)

  1. Gordon Berry

    Why does or doesn’t a person come to church in today’s America? Three things seem important to me: family, entertainment, and insight into the human condition.

    In many ways, the American family structure is much weaker than formerly. Children growing up have much less time with parents (divorce, two working, extra jobs). Thus, add in all the extracurricular activities of the young, and there are simply not as many “contact hours” with children as an agrarian time provided. Generalizations are almost always wrong in some nature, but when you see a father, mother, son and daughter in a pew at church, there is an example of family bonding (even if the children haven’t quite got the idea yet). Further, there is socialization for adults without the rigidity of work or school environments. Bonds between people can form and strengthen on a personal, rather that business or professional, level.

    There are people who might think of church as “entertainment,” and plan their attendance accordingly. Here, entertainment can mean holding attention in a positive, rewarding manner. To these, there is an emotional appeal, and the “show,” the tone and kind of the music, the pace and content of the liturgy, add up to a different feeling at the end of the service. For some people, there is a need to leave with the adrenaline pumping, feeling uplifted, For others, the stories told by familiar, comfortable hymns leaves them satisfied. Even old folks, though, can appreciate the vitality and energy of the so-called “praise” music.

    Finally, church can provide us insight into the human condition. Much of the New Testament “gospels” contain parables that tell us directly how one human should behave toward another. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” tells us directly to look within ourselves before judging others. It also speaks to a gentler, more tolerant, more understanding society. The book of Job speaks to an anthropomorphic God visiting tribulation upon Job. Addressing Job’s situations cannot help but bring us to a better understanding of our conception of God.

    It seems to me that a church barren of strength in family, , entertainment, and insight into the human condition would be a weak church indeed.

  2. Sheryl Ashley

    Thanks Timothy for the good and uplifting words. Someone who still believes in the power of Jesus Christ as the head of the church needs to let the world know His Body is alive and that this is the place that offers life!

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