If you’ve been around First Pres in Boulder over the last few months, you’ve no doubt seen some fireworks: this has been a time of unrest and upheaval. We’ve had a capital- and building-campaign terminated over prospects of mounting costs and insufficient donations to cover them; we’ve had a stewardship campaign fall short of our goals for the projected 2008 budget. We’ve had budget reductions and staff layoffs and congregational meetings and kitchen table talks and mailings and endless emails. To say it’s been painful is only the beginning. It’s also been depleting, draining, disorienting, discouraging, and, frankly, depressing. Yuck.
Many of us wonder: What’s going on?! How did we get here? What’s God up to?
Well, which one of us can adequately prognosticate? Who can read the tea leaves clearly? None of us, I’m convinced, has an inside line on God and what God is doing. Beware of those who say they do! But for what it’s worth, here are some of my interim impressions. Feel free to take them or leave them. They are unofficial. I offer them only as my tentative best-guesses, my feeble discernment at this point in time.
I think God may be moving us from being a corporation-styled church, replete with policies, procedures, and professionalism, to a more family-styled church, a place where paid staff partner more authentically with volunteer lay people. I suspect we’re being reshaped from a pyramidal organization to a flatter, more relational organism. Partnership, sharing, mutual ministry—these may become the name of the game.
In light of our past professional proclivities (I love words beginning with P…) I wonder if God may also be challenging our subtle Christian consumerism: how tempting it is to resort to business models which market attractive ministries for consumers in a competitive church economy. I think we may be in a paradigm shift away from Christian consumption to Christian community. Savvy Christian consumers may well depart for better deals elsewhere, so buyer beware!
I wonder if God is humbling us, too. We tend to be an educated, powerful lot—both staff and congregation. Like many Presbyterians we like things done decently and in order. We like stuff neat and clean. We like being in control. Recent developments are anything but. Instead, words like chaos and disorder come to mind. But in it all, I wonder: is God allowing us to experience our essential helplessness as Presbyterian Christians? Are we being stripped of an underlying arrogance that assumes we have the ability to manage our own destinies—even, or especially, in the church? Is God challenging some of our Presbyterian pride?
Out of this messiness and humiliation, could God not be inviting us into a liberating experience of our own brokenness? Could this stripping of our facades of polished professionalism be a fresh invitation to loving relationship—both with our Savior and with each other?
And isn’t this what the gospel is about, after all? How can we expect to find the liberation of God’s amazing grace if we don’t experience our utter helplessness and need along the way? Our theological doctrines may have been orthodox and biblical, but maybe God is giving us the sixteen inch drop from head to heart.
As we wade through our mutual messiness, as we come together for comfort and strength, as we kneel next to one another in prayerful dependence, as we wrestle—staff and congregation—with what to do next, could this not be the beginning of an exciting spiritual renewal? Could this not lead to an awakening to the power of the gospel like never before? Could our newfound community of brokenness and humility be used of God to reach out into our streets and neighborhoods, our schools and businesses, in ways we never imagined possible?
And I wonder what you think…
Thank you for your thoughts and words. From many comments I have heard over the last weeks and months, there is a growing sense of change from malaise to hope along the lines you mention. Where we are in God's time line only he knows. What else he has in store we can only pray from strength and resolve. At the same time, it feels like the doors are being pushed open for the church to experience the fresh wind and fresh fire. Of course fire means only refining and wind means blowing out.
The men's Bible study tonight at the Pierce's is on John 17. If only we can believe, be unified and a light in Boulder.
Lot's to say, but leave it at God bless you and yours. (Rupali brought the good news to The Walk the last few Sundays. God bless her.)
Amen back at you, Larry! This is potentially very exciting--but we need patience along the way. This may take some time. How to balance patience with purposefulness--that's the question!
Birthpangs is the word that's been coming to mind lately...
You speak of our "essential helplessness"...Now that's a concept that doesn't square too well with what most of us seek to be in our contemporary culture, in or outside the church. My whole personal spiritual journey for the past year and a half (especially) has been a lesson -- over and over and over -- that I am not in control, that any such illusion I have of being so will repeatedly be crushed. And yet I still don't seem to get the message. It seems that it is indeed the same message our church must be open to. When we fall down and show our vulnerability, only then, I think, are we really approachable, more truly empathetic, and -- critically -- open to what God might have for us, rather than the path we are intent on.
One concept from Buddhism I really like, and I think contains some ecumenical wisdom, is the notion of "beginner's mind." It is the beginner, the learner, who is humble in faith. How much our pride gets in the way of God's being able to teach us. Why does it always seem to take pain to open us up?
Wendy, that feeling of being out of control is so central to an experience of the gospel of grace, isn't it?! It's been those times of helplessness in which I've seen God do some of the best soul work in me. Could our illusion of control be related to our collective fall from grace, our attempts to play God?
Thanks for writing,
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