The following is adapted from my friend Brian’s book A New Kind of Christian.
There are two qualities that church leaders in transition must have: patience and compassion.
Imagine that we are living in a beautiful mansion. We know the house inside and out from that one squeaky step you want to avoid during your nighttime trek to the kitchen to the precise way you must pull on the doorknob to make it open on the first tug.
This house has its problems, but it is ours, and it is our home.
It is filled with furniture, trinkets, and pictures of our ancestors. Generation after generation have lived in this house, and several of its members have even been born in the master bedroom.
But one day an engineer informs us that it must come down. Termites have infested the walls and it simply is not fit to live in. There isn’t anywhere permanent to go right now, but temporary lodging will be set up outside.
Once a new house is built, then we can see what pictures can fit on the walls, what furniture can be salvaged, and where all of the trinkets can go. But until then things will be a little awkward and maybe uncomfortable.
One catch in all this is that there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with the house. Sure, it has its issues, but those have always been there and have become part of its charm.
It can be difficult for the members of the house to see that the current living situation is simply not sustainable, but in order for the family to go on, it must be addressed regardless of how difficult it may be. This may mean redefining what our home is: is it the mansion or the people?
Let’s be honest.
Church attendance is on the decline, and COVID has expedited that process.
If we don’t do something soon, there is no guarantee that our congregations will be around for too much longer.
A congregation is always one generation away from going out of existence, and unless they are willing to move into the tents of transition and seek to rebuild (always with Christ as the chief cornerstone) then they may just become the next statistic before too long.
But just like with a family home, this kind of transition demands patience and compassion on the part of the leaders and the members.
It also requires wisdom. Once the house is built, what pictures can go back on the walls and what furniture do we have to just admit has gone through too many toddlers to go into the new house?
In other words, what traditions do we hold onto and which ones should we move on from? Not because we hate, despise, or don’t respect our ancestors, but because we do! We honor where they have brought us to so much that we are willing to continue on that trajectory towards perfection and that, one day, we will have to provide our children and our grandchildren with the permission to do the same!
It’s by no means easy. There isn’t a magic formula or a one sized fits all answer, but, like Abraham, we have to be willing to go where the Spirit leads even if that means going into a land which we do not know. Who knows! It may end up being a land filled with milk and honey.
To end, here is a quote from Brian about traditions. It is related to something I said in the illustration: defining our church home based on the One we all follow, not the traditions we prefer.
The traditional churches will have to do one thing about their traditions, if they want to retain them: they will have to relativize them. They won’t be able to enforce them as being right, necessary, or biblically mandated; they will rather simply offer them as elements of their church culture that have meaning for them.
And if they don’t work, they will feel free to drop them in favor of new practices that will work.A New Kind of Christian (p. 211)