Changing Church

Sunday I rearranged the sanctuary so that everyone was facing a different direction. Oh my,the looks of confusion as they entered! And I heard a few people exclaim, “Now I don’t know where to sit!” Holy cow, you’d think I’d spun them around three times in the dark and they ended up on Oz. Somewhat sadistically, I’m tempted to do it more often just to keep them on their toes. (For the full audio podcast of the sermon, click here.)

Seriously, I did have a point. We were celebrating Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit blew into town, empowered the disciples and a movement began. You know, every time the Spirit shows up something changes – people are led out of slavery, women get pregnant, ministries start. So, if logic serves me correctly, evidence of the presence of the Spirit in church is change. Not change for the sake of change (like moving chairs), but life-affirming, meaningful, love- and justice-filled change.

You know that churches are declining, right? Take a look at these stats:

  • 31% of Americans say that they are nonreligious
  • 25% of those 30 and under in America say they are “atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular”
  • 40% of Americans attend church regularly (this may be the “halo” effect where people want the surveyor to think well of them, because other reports of actual church attendance find that only 20% attend church regularly.)
  • 80% of people 20 and younger have never set foot in a church.

Here are a few thoughts about why I think this is:

  • The church is becoming irrelevant
  • It insists we believe in absurd, antiquated claims(i.e. Adam and Eve, Virgin Birth, heaven and hell)
  • Many churches support a prejudiced theology (against divorced people, LGBT, women, poor, etc.)
  • The church is not a friend of science
  • It tells us not to ask questions
  • The pastor’s function is as a propagandist, not a teacher or prophet
  • God is “out there”
  • Church is more about the glitz in worship than spiritual depth, searching and transformation

Here’s the deal with most of Christianity… the church is dying, but we’re not really doing anything new to fix it. We might package it a little differently – now we can have coffee with our worship, or sit in a movie theater, or a big amphitheater with a band and TV screens – but they are preaching the same old stuff.

Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity, states:

 “We acknowledge that we have created many Christianities up to this point, and they call for reassessment and, in many cases, repentance…we are reassessing as a humble act of ethical responsibility, so that we can avoid merely carrying on the “traditions of humans” as Jesus said the Pharisees once did. We are in fact following the example of our ancestors, who again and again from the margins did this very kind of collective self-examination and repenting.”

It is time to look honestly at what kind of religion has been created and determine what needs to change to help it evolve to the next stage of spirituality. We cannot be so egotistical as to believe that what we create next will be “right” for all time, but perhaps it will be the next best step in the evolution of our understanding of the Divine, ourselves, and the relationship between the two. This means lots of hard work re-examining our community and ourselves, it means deconstructing what we thought we knew, or what we’ve been told, then searching and exploring the world and our hearts for “truth.”

Can you imagine what that looks like? Based on the things I’ve read and studied, here is a beginning of what I think this looks like:

  • We individuals we need to look within… we cannot expect to be a community based on the love and principles of Jesus (inclusivity, compassion, non-judgment, peace, harmony, forgiveness, seeking justice for the marginalized and outcast, etc.) if we don’t each work on our own hearts to get to that place.
  • Then our actions as a community need to reflect our interior work.
  • We need to move away from theism. There are multiple ways that a primarily male-imaged God “out there” is stifling our growth.
  • We need to shift away from our belief of Jesus as God. Among other things, this perpetuates the image of the male divine role and relegates women to second-class subordinates.
  • We need to reexamine our worship, songs, traditions, rituals, prayers, sacraments… everything. It’s time to ask why do we do this? Just because some guy 2000 years ago said we should? Is that really a reason to still be baptized, or circumcised, or eat bread and wine? Maybe it is… but have we even asked the questions?
  • Theologically, we need to re-examine our belief structures, creeds, and doctrine to reflect the evolution of our hearts, minds and souls.

This type of self-assessment can be sort of earth-shattering… or it can be liberating. And, as far as I can tell, there really isn’t any marked path to follow. We’re paving our own way to a faith that is more meaningful, relevant, personal and communal. Join me.