I don’t want to change EITHER!!!

When I was called to the ministry the United Methodist Church had a membership of over 8 million members, strong.  Most of our congregations were hearty in attendance.  Most of them had vital Sunday Schools, great choirs and awesome buildings to hold those things.  Sometimes, there were mean folk in those congregations, but they went on, they thrived….or maybe they didn’t.

Many of those congregations I mentioned above are dying out, struggling, existing on life support.  They cherish their past and over exaggerate it’s glory.  For example, along the way, something happened, that they lost their evangelistic appeal.  They no longer are able to adapt in a post denominational world.  They don’t understand the concept of people who want genuine church, genuine community, and genuine connection.  This is the protestant church’s main downfall, it’s inability to adapt to the world around it.  The world now has no use for its archaic, antiquated, and stuffy ways.

When I was called, we held annual conferences on college campuses.  We literally lived together on a campus for four to five days!  We never imagined staying at a hotel, eating in separate or fancy restaurants (although we may have complained).  Believe it or not, the district superintendents sat among conference members and not along a row of chairs and tables at the front.  It was an awesome time!  It was a great time!  A few of my youth delegation friends would gather in circles, sing songs, talk about controversial legislation, future goals, youth stuff, dating stuff, etc.

Most of those kids are now on a diaspora of sorts from their United Methodist congregations that have declined and failed to meet them halfway in terms of their needs for newer worship, revitalized ministries and places to be.

I know I never imagined inheriting a denomination that looks so different than the one I fell in love with forty years ago. We looked more homogenetic.  Much of the clergy were male, donning black robes and in some cases, all white and not many black faces.  It wasn’t the beautiful display of diversity that we see now in our annual conferences.

Further, I can’t be the type of clergy person I dreamed of being back in those days.  I now, out of love for this church must be a stubborn agitator.  I have to lead congregations to revitalize their cultural DNA much of which was established years before my birth.  I have to be pushy and aggressive by not giving in to the excuses of why we can’t change, why we can’t launch out into the deep, why we can’t make room for new people and why we can’t continue to go along as we have been. I can’t buy the lies we tell ourselves and I can’t participate in the fantasy that one day the old church will drop out of the sky and neatly settle on our cushioned pews.

I have to be the initiator of change.  We have to change the type of music we sing, the style of worship flow, the evangelistic witness, new member experience or else we will drift into the abyss of nothingness.

Now, I’m not being a pessimist.  Wherever there are people there is a need for the gospel and a community to help carry it out.

However, I also want to shout from the mountain top to local congregants, “I don’t want to change either!!!”  I really don’t.  I still long for the day when everything was etched in stone and we didn’t have to think and imagine so hard.  I long for that day where the neighborhood had their denominational affiliations and we didn’t have to depend so heavily on the work to capture the imagination of passers by.  I long for the time, when the music was much simpler, just open a hymn and pick a song and all will be well.  All you need really, is a piano, maybe an organ, but not more than that.  I long for the day, when clergy apparel was easily defined; black robe during the month, white robe on first Sundays with red, purple, green, or white stoles and paraments.  I live for that day when the words, “Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins and live in charity with your neighbors, draw near with faith and take this sacrament to your comfort” meant we were deeply gathered around the table with the beautiful chorus of “Let us break bread together.”

Let me make it clear, I don’t want to change either.  But, we serve a God who “makes all things new.”  The new is the constant work of change, of different looks, different feels, and different approaches.  It will never be what it was. I honestly believe that God gets bored with the routine, the regular and the normal.  We serve a God that loves to shake it up from time to time and when God does it often takes us twenty years to get with it only to discover that God has moved on to the next thing.

So, I go back to church, ticking everyone off, announcing the new worship order, the new leadership slate, the new programming, the new bulletin design, the emergence of newer members into roles that have been occupied by more seasoned and veteran members.  I go back daring to touch the Gloria Patri, the chanted version of the Lord’s Prayer, and rewrite liturgy that will connect to a generation that really doesn’t believe that church is worth their time.  I will get my hand sapped for sure by some protective element in the church.  I will get frowns for sure by some who defines sacred ritual as being dressed in a suit or fancy dress and a formal adherence to liturgical text, when I tell them to close the books and we don’t “read” the liturgy at all.  Instead, we just have communion.  We break bread and we raise cup.  We weep at the table realizing how we shouldn’t even be there because of our sinful nature, but God has invited us anyway.

I will make folk mad for sure!  But, I am with them to some degree.  I admit it.  I don’t want to change either!!

But,  I have to.  I have to.  I just have to.

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~ by bkevinsmalls on December 29, 2014.

One Response to “I don’t want to change EITHER!!!”

  1. Oh how I loved the message that what is important is that we bring Jesus Christ to the lost in what ever manner God calls us! Being a part of the older generation [early 60s] I love the change that has some about, I love the realness of praising God with our hearts instead of reading words that don’t apply to me… I love having preachers in shorts, sandals and blue jeans. I believe the robes only serve as a separation a way to set the clergy apart from the laity… thank you for jumping in and keeping it real.

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