I think it’s safe to say that the church isn’t what it used to be. I do not mean that cynically.
Some miss the days when the church was filled on Sunday morning and with Wednesday evening activities, when the church was a social hub in the community.
They miss the time when congregations didn’t have to focus much on outreach, and when members weren’t constantly asked to be inviting family and friends.
Leading a church was once a fairly straightforward process; offer good music and organized weekday learning activities, care for folks and they will come.
And yet, the church of the so-called good old days had some “issues” just below the surface. It was unapologetically segregated, leadership roles for women were limited and civil-religion overshadowed the radical gospel of Jesus.
I’m glad that the church I attend continues to move beyond these limiting cultural stumbling blocks.
In a way that sounds odd even to me, I also think it’s healthy for the church to be forced (for survival) to look beyond its membership and to the margins.
When we stretch ourselves to welcome the disconnected, and the often messy lives of those living outside of the covenant of grace, it can only honor Jesus, and the church is better for it. Change is good.
Don’t get me wrong, I love our traditions. I love music from the hymnbook, and the liturgy of the church which poetically enriches worship; both teach good theology.
And yet, I’m happy that church has moved beyond offering a single, “acceptable” form of worship. I’m glad new music continues to make its way into our expressions.
I’m glad the dress code is more relaxed and that people feel they can approach God sans formality. I think the church is better when it lives into the diversity of its people, and offers varied styles of worship.
The space where I worship has been physically redesigned (dramatically so) any number of times over its long history.
I’m thankful for the courage of those who gave permission for these changes that our facility might be accessible, that our space shows that we value emerging generations, and that our building might serve the ever-changing needs of the church.
I’ve come to understand that change is the one true tradition of the church.
I’ve no interest in slandering your fond memories of the past or defaming the conventions I’ve inherited. Like Elisha following Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-12,) I want to follow the example and practices of my forerunners.
I want to honor those who came before me and entrusted the church to my care by doing just what they did; change with the times.
How about you?
(Mitch Jarvis pastors Neosho United Methodist Church. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)