“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
– Gordon Gee, President, Ohio State University
Although Gordon Gee has recently found himself in some trouble for things he has said, this statement from a few years back, rings true – not just for his university but for us in the church as well. In fact, we are in the middle of what some are calling the “big rummage sale,” a phenomenon that seems to happen every 500 years or so where the church reevaluates itself, its teachings, and how it is supposed to move forward. It’s called a rummage sale because it is like the church pulls out everything it thinks and does and lays it all out on the front yard. Then the church looks everything over and sees what it wants to keep and what it wants to discard. Of course, what comes out the other side of this process is not the same.
The last time we had the rummage sale was, of course, was the Protestant Reformation. Sparked by Martin Luther in 1517, the Reformation was a protest against the structure and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. This questioning of the 16th Century Roman Catholic Church led to a lessening of the power of the church and then to the launch of Protestant churches such as the Church of England, which eventually led to us, the United Methodist Church, today.
Just like the Catholic Church lost power and influence 500 years ago, Christianity as a whole is losing much of its influence in today’s world as folks are failing to see (or are not being told) the importance of faith in Christ. And it seems, like Gee stated, if we are not open to change in how we do church, then we are faced with becoming irrelevant.
At Annual Conference this year, our Keynote speaker, Brian McLaren, had people there who were less than 35 years old stand and share their viewpoints on how they see the church and what they would like to see happen. Some of the responses were:
• Young people are not the church of tomorrow. They are part of the church TODAY and should be respected and listened to as such. Don’t just hear us, LISTEN to us.
• Young people need to be met where they are and need to feel they are accepted and are not being judged. We want to feel safe being who we are.
• And by the way, the next generation doesn’t see anything wrong with gay marriage.
• Don’t expect the next generation to fix problems made by the last generation without our help.
• New Christians need mentors to show them the way. They want to hear our stories of what we believe and why. Stories are a big thing. Tell the wider story that points to Jesus.
• Be INVITATIONAL! If you don’t ask us in, we probably won’t just show up. And reach out to get involved with things we are already doing. Show us you are authentic.
It’s interesting to me that we seem to be closer to the status of the early church now than we have been for a long time, fighting for relevance in a largely hostile society. At the same time, people are also starting to look back at the gospel taught by Jesus rather than just the gospel taught about Jesus. I truly believe that, just like the early church that was led by Holy Spirit-filled, mostly young people on fire to share the message of God’s love, I believe the church today and in the future will thrive through the actions of Holy Spirit-filled people today.
I admit that it is both scary and exciting to be in the church in this time of rethinking. But thankfully we aren’t alone in the process. Each of us is called to have input in how Parker UMC does church moving forward. If you have any input into our process of increasing our relevance in our community, both in sharing the good news of Christ and in helping those less fortunate than ourselves, please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you. God bless you all