Standing Together In Protest
In meetings, on the phone with friends, through social media: I am in conversation with a great many folks in church leadership. Regardless of context, we always seem to end up (at some point in the conversation) talking about the future of the church – specifically, the future of mainline Protestantism.
A steady decline in membership.
Conflict over church politics.
Debates about worship style.
A love/hate relationship with technology and social media.
Tradition vs. reinterpretation.
Unity vs. purity.
Re-imagining the role of mid-level governing bodies.
Decreasing the size of the denomination’s national staff.
At every level, we seem to be clear that the picture is not all sunshine and roses.
And yet, for all our talk of re-imagining and reinterpreting, how much has really changed. Certainly, some of our church structures are not quite as rigid as they once were. But does it follow that our Christian communities have become more able to adjust to the challenges of a new millennium, or to hear and respond to the needs of new generations?
Oh, there are a very few congregations who have learned to color outside the lines … but where are the congregations who have learned to color outside the page? who are writing on the walls, for God’s sake?
Instead, we see congregations who are jumping ship and pledging their loyalties elsewhere. Or we see church leaders whose response to these disturbing trends is to hold ever-more-tightly to what is old and comfortable to them. Or we see congregations who respond to these trends with fear, which manifests itself in an attitude of unwillingness to change.
Across the Middle East, the last month has seen protesters take to the street: to gather together and march together and to stand together to demand change. They have refused to be deterred. They have refused to abandon the ship. They have refused to abandon one another, despite the differences that might threaten to divide them. They are committed to the end of the old and the beginning of something new: something so new that no one yet knows what it will be. But even the unknown character of that future does not shake their resolve.
What if the followers of Jesus came together in such a way? What if we each grabbed a blanket and a bottle of water, then gathered together (peacefully, of course) on the fly at some arranged location? Or, better yet, at hundreds or thousands of locations around the country? What if we just refused to leave until all of those who maintain the status quo were awake to our call to change? What if we used our time together to tell stories and sing songs and build networks and form ideas and dream dreams and see visions? What if our gatherings signaled something so extraordinary, that we had the whole world watching, just to see what kind of change we would evoke?
Of course, we do have gatherings in thousands of locations around the country. We have them every week. It’s too bad their character is not more revolutionary. Not with the aim of toppling governments and promoting anarchy; rather, with the aim of helping us to shed our Pharisaic hold on the status quo.
As one who plans worship, as one who proclaims the Word, as one who is called to lead by example, as one who is tasked with leadership at both the local and regional levels of church structure … I recognize that I am one of the ones who hold fast to the old ways.
The old ways are comfortable. The old ways take less time. The old ways require less creativity. And some weeks, I feel as though I have limited quantities of both time and creativity.
Isn’t it time that we remember that we follow a revolutionary Lord, who challenged the Temple leadership and criticized the religious regime and was more interested in inviting people into an abundant relationship with God rather than making them “comfortable”?