Years ago, as I looked at the possibility of being one of the many pastors in the United Methodist Church starting new churches, I came to realize that was not my call. Sure, I could do that (by the grace of God), but God made it clear that was not my call. My call was to help revitalize the church – both locally and on a wider scale. Please, don’t misunderstand. I am not trying to be arrogant, not trying to jockey for position or power, I just know what God has laid on my heart.
The church – United Methodist in my context – needs to be revitalized. But to understand what that means we have to look at the root word:
1. of or pertaining to life
2. having remarkable energy, liveliness, or force of personality
The church, the community of believers living together, should be pertinent to our life. Our connection with God and with other followers of Jesus should be life-giving, life-saving, life-enhancing, and life-sustaining. The people of God known as Christians should be seen as “those people with remarkable energy and liveliness and joy”. That’s what it means to be “vital” and that’s what we need to recapture. We need to be made vital again.
So, what’s the challenge? The challenge is the reality that the church is made up of human beings. The challenge is that we have become comfortable where we are. The church has become an organization and a place where I go to feel better or get help or be around the people I like because they’re just like me. Has that been changing? Yes, things are not what they used to be, but, in regard to becoming more vital, we still have a way to go because it still means making real changes.
Change is tough. Deciding that what we want is less important than what God wants is part of our human dilemma. To lead the church in new directions, to lead a church into renewed vitality, will mean people will get upset and people will leave that local church. When people leave it can affect our giving and it can affect the resources the church can support. And the bottom line is that revitalization will often appear to be demolition in the short run.
Can we sustain our current levels of giving and membership and attendance and still truly revitalize the church and the denomination? It’s unlikely. But there are numerous stories of churches who took on the challenge, faced a short-term decline in giving and/or attendance, and came out the other side stronger.
What we need is leadership in both the clergy and laity who are willing to take that chance. We need the leadership of the Conferences to prayerfully discern how that can be allowed. Churches may struggle to pay all they’re asked to pay, but we can’t maintain the current status quo while also making changes that revitalize. We also need laity who are committed to this challenge and willing to give in greater ways in the short-term (both financially and with time and talents).
Revitalizing the church means taking a new path and going where God leads. It’s not a call for the faint of heart. When the road we’re on gets steep and the footing unsure we can’t simply decide to take the easier path. When the path that was so readily worn by the feet of others slowly becomes an unexplored terrain, we can’t just stop. Revitalizing the church won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Holy high five to you, Mike