Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Acorn 5

Has the Church been sleeping?

by Teresa Franklin

It was one of the implications directed to a group of church leaders during a three-day workshop I attended in May. My first reaction was defensiveness. “No, I’m not asleep,” I wanted to say, but didn’t. I understood the leader’s interest in lighting a fire under Christians who’ve been sitting contentedly inside the church for a generation, but I didn’t agree that sleeping was the problem. Hiding, maybe, but not sleeping.

We’ve been busy inside our churches – running programs, enjoying worship, studying scripture, and welcoming all who care to join our plans and activities. By and large, we haven’t been busy at ministry outside our walls or beyond our comfortable culture of Christian friends, neighbors and families. But to say we’ve avoided ministry because we’re content to sleep, I think, hits wide of the mark. It isn’t like we in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. haven’t noticed that people no longer flock to our churches. It isn’t like we haven’t noticed the shrinking budgets, decaying buildings and burnt-out leaders. We’ve noticed. We just haven’t figured out how to respond. Sleep isn’t the problem, though. Bewilderment, fear of the unknown, and love of security I think are much more to blame.

Let’s face it. The culture beyond the church steps has changed dramatically since 1965. But that isn’t to say the culture inside the church hasn’t changed as well. It has. But over the last 45 years the two seemed to have grown increasingly separate and different, insulated from each other.

The workshop I attended challenged me with questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. “What are the perceived needs of the unchurched, and how can the church begin to meet those needs?” Notice I said perceived needs, not just needs. It’s easy for us to say, “The unchurched, of course, need Christ; they need a relationship with God the Creator, the Sustainer of all life.” But the unchurched don’t even speak that language. And increasingly, it seems we don’t understand the language they do speak.

Jesus went out into his world. He touched blind eyes and inspired spiritual sight. He healed leprous skin and taught spiritual cleansing. He fed hungry mouths and offered spiritual food. He managed to communicate a message of hope.

If we are Christ’s followers in more than name only, perhaps it’s time we woke up to the fact that we’ve insulated ourselves from the world around us, so much so that we’ve practically lost the ability to communicate with those outside the church. If not happy, we have at least been satisfied to stay inside. I’ve recently decided the time has come for me to open the doors and venture outside. It’s a big, wide world out there – a world with needs I can hardly imagine but must strive to understand. I believe Christians hold many of the answers; we just don’t comprehend the current questions. But we can learn if we can find the courage to go.

The Lord spoke to Joshua, son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying,… “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:1, 9)