When Realism Meets Defeatism

I have been struggling lately to see the good in church lately. With the discussions I have had recently about the future of The Methodist Church, I have been stressing the reality the church is in. In part, I don’t know if those in my churches have thought about it much. Many are aware that the church is declining, and probably know that at the national level this is happening everywhere. But, I have wondered how this will effect them. And I have tried (perhaps too hard) to make the case to them.

I haven’t made the case by saying what seems to have been the normal way, i.e., ‘do this or close’. I still have doubts that all ageing congregations can ‘grow fast enough’ to maintain the all ageing buildings in the connexion. Discipleship can be a slow process, and as Pam has mentioned in her comments (on a previous post), the folk that things like Fresh Expressions attract often find our structures (building and organisational) hard work and cumbersome. Placing the hope of The Methodist Church as it is today on Fresh Expressions seems to be the opposite of what actually happens.

Then last night at a stewards meeting, I had to hear the challenge that I was talking defeatism. It came up when we talked about over the last 18 months or so a number of new people had come into the church. Well, it was 6, and 4 of those have stopped coming. I had to wonder why I couldn’t get excited about 2 people. There is an opportunity right there!

I had become unable to see possibilities. Part of this comes not only from what I have been saying lately about the state of the church. Some of it (maybe a lot of it) stems from the past hurts of ideas that found little support or were changed from what I thought it should be. I don’t mean to make it seem like sour grapes on my part. Part is that traditional churches are just that – traditional. Part of it is that I have yet to find that ‘motivational key’ that gets ideas out of my head and into a format that can be grasped by others.

So I find myself navigating the way between trying to be realistic and feeling defeated. On one side there is the tendency to only celebrate the 2 people without asking ourselves why the other 4 chose to leave(this was the concern of some – they feel like the message gets out that we’re ok – it’s the one who don’t come that have the problem). Then there is the problem of creeping judgmentalism that I have found myself battling more and more, which makes me focus on the problems that made the 4 leave.

I offer this as a kind of reflection that Dave Warnock (42) has called for in his post on ‘Knowing Ourselves‘. He calls for knowing ourselves at an individual level and a the corporate level. I think my church and myself are doing that right now. I do know I am feeling tired of seeing the negative so much that I can’t see the positive, but need to find a better way to navigate this divide between realism and defeatism.


7 thoughts on “When Realism Meets Defeatism

  1. Very interesting and thought-provoking.

    I struggle with being overly negative vs. being realistic.

    I’m trying to reorient my mind to appreciate the “2”, because, of course, there’s great value in the “2.” But it’s hard, especially here where growth and being “big” seem to be the key indicators of “success.”

    And, as you say, there is a legitimate place to ask why the “4” don’t stay.

    It’s a fine line.

    When you get it figured out, let me know.

  2. It’s trying to find a balance, I think, between the attitude (which a Local Preacher here actually said the other day) ‘I’m glad everything is up to God at the end of the day; it means I don’t have to do anything.’ and collectively beating ourselves up about not seeing infinite growth.

    There has to be a balance in the middle.

    My personal perception is this: Christianity in Britain is currently counter-cultural. I think that there is a ‘spirit of the times’ (but not a social and governmental conspiracy) that means Christianity is out of step with the general cultural ethos. In many ways, we can compare our relatively prosperous culture with that of Rome and see many parallels with the situation of believers in the New Testament.

    Previously, Christianity in Britain was not counter-cultural. But I’m not sure it was really Christian either. I think the US is probably just leaving the state of ‘cultural religion’ where Christianity was used mainly as a tool of society for moral and social stability. I completely doubt that ‘full churches’ in this scenario actually have anything to do with the Gospel or the Kingdom. And they can certainly seduce all of us into thinking that all is well in the Kingdom.

    The exciting part of being in a post-Christian society is that Christianity is free to to actually be Christian. To focus on the The Kingdom of God rather than the British Empire or ‘God Bless America’.

    I think it’s the ‘job’ of our generation to promote and maintain a faithful church. Or, in biblical imagery, I think it’s our job to plant good and fruitful seeds and to make sure the soil is as rich as possible for another generation to bear the fruit of our work. My opinion, anyway.

  3. Pam,

    You wrote:

    I think the US is probably just leaving the state of ‘cultural religion’ where Christianity was used mainly as a tool of society for moral and social stability. I completely doubt that ‘full churches’ in this scenario actually have anything to do with the Gospel or the Kingdom. And they can certainly seduce all of us into thinking that all is well in the Kingdom.

    I’d just like to say, in my opinion, that you’re absolutely, 100% correct.


  4. This is an interesting post and I have to say that I struggle with our structures and I have been back in Methodism for over ten years.
    The business of 2 people coming and staying is like the organisation I work for where we spend lots of time examining what we do and why but not a lot of time celebrating the positive things – we almost give a cursory nod to these things.
    Remember too that scripture that says ‘despise not the small things’ (Zechariah 4 v 10)

  5. I understand what you mean, FP, but I don’t think I am despising the small. Part of it is, I know why 2 of those 4 don’t come. Sometimes, you have to make a distinction between despising the small and looking for something indicative of a problem.

  6. I am preparing a sermon on judgementalism ,so have been surfing and by sheer chance/ providence ,saw your article. I concur with everything you said ,and how refreshing to find a soul mate so to speak. Some 1 realistic and honest.
    I think as a christian it is a tightrope walk to balance reality with optimism/ defeatism. Thank God for the Holy Spirit and the wonderful story of Elijah which is a constant reminder that God will never leave us without a witness. Would love to share more on this subject and be supportive .
    Blessings Alan { an Irish Methodist minister]

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