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.