• Adult – Maturity and development are key words – Question: what will be our identity? do we have a plan to be faithful?
• Parent – Multiplication is key word – Question: what is happening in and through the faith community that is bringing about new life?
• Grandparenting – Experience and resources – Question: We should be multiplying our influence…how? Purpose to encourage and build up others, planting of other "churches."
• Senior – Legacy – Question: Are we going to decline and and move into survival mode or are we seeking God for long-term legacy and rebirth (since we are no longer attracting or keeping young leaders)
The illustration above? That’s a simple picture – things can get and often get more complex and difficult to explain. The Bottom line – all churches are living systems and as living systems – all have life cycles that are easily discernable. Unfortunately, sometimes in our discernment we don't like to see what the truth is revealing to us – let me explain:
One of the truths of LIVING SYSTEMS is this – they all, living systems seek stability – most living systems start organically and as organic systems are usually too crazy and unpredictable. So eventually chaotic living systems become institutionalized – institutionalism causes chaotic systems to get more centralized and controlled. That’s a good thing – at least initially…unfortunately, along with control eventually comes stagnation. Healthy stability establishes things like traditions, roles, ways of managing change; leadership is key here but “releasing, life-giving leadership. The problem comes when these institutionalized systems start to age…because institutional systems leak life…it drains right out of them. That’s why an institutionalized system eventually has to deal with things like instability and chaos. That's, again, natural. The problem though is that when instability and chaos are reintroduced back into institutionalized complex systems, usually one or two things happen – new life is brought about and nurtured and released to bring new vitality to the system OR control, fear, or apathy causes the instability and chaos to run the system into the ground.
Friends, "Church" has moved from a time of unprecedented stability to a sense of chaos and change and survival. Because of that, many of these “living systems” are struggling to hold on to meaning and stability only to discover problems that they didn’t anticipate. For the issues that led to the stability and life of these complex systems have changed and the (institutional) system has no way to adapt and move on…the complexities are causing panic, disillusionment, and even resignation.
Now, that's your more academic analysis of a very real problem…so let me spell it out to you in a bit more approachable manner. The fact is – a lot of people don’t go to church anymore…they are not church-inclined. And even if people go to church they are not exhibiting those characteristics that promise or could promise to breath new life back into fading and dying systems
• For churches are full of people who would prefer to be passive, entertained or even “fed” and listen to paid professionals on the stage than do the work necessary to have life.
• Churches are full of people who seek anonymity – they want to be nameless and faceless because that way they are safe from the ever present threat that churches present in asking people for their time.
• Churches are full of people who love to rely on authority figures for information and inspiration. And church systems thrive on these individuals because the church has always had better success establishing unhealthy co-dependency than healthy boundaries where everyone is a player in what God’s up to.
• Churches are full of people who are more academic than pragmatic…more thought oriented than action oriented and much more apt to be addicted to complaining how bad things are instead of acting on dreams of what could become.
I’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long time…started sincerely and deliberately taking Jesus seriously in terms of lifestyle of mission when I was in my teens. I am passionate about the church – why wouldn’t I be? It is the body of Jesus whom I love and follow. So it distresses me when this organic system, this life-filled Body of Christ endowed with the power that created the universe is slipping in influence and importance in people’s lives.
Many of my friends have done the sign of the cross over the church…many have left…many more will follow. People are fed up with the culture of celebrity and consumerism and competition that have infiltrated contemporary expressions of church. People are sick of seeing another pastor vie for cultural recognition and celebrity status…they are tired of seeing multi-million dollar facilities being built in the middle of communities that are populated by people barely making ends meet…they are tired of hearing that “we’re better than them” phrases come out of Christians mouths because market share is falling and all Christians seem to be competing for a shrinking number of potential parishioners. The culture has convinced people that it is better to be narcissistically spiritual than involved in some sort of religious community where accountability and challenge are mainstays. And people have invested in more of the internal, private, subjective type of faith where they can at least be real than something that is obviously not only more public but they perceive filled with phonies, posers and idiots.
A friend of mine put it this way a week ago:
“I’m so tired of religious people who feel like they have an argument to win, a point to make or a soul to save…people that I knew want to be more than part of the year end stats at some local church…they don’t want to be preached at, judged, or fought over…we are tired of being called sinful or selfish…all we are looking for is someplace and somebody to believe to…someone who will know us and be willing to show us a God who we would like to know…”
Every day something crosses my desk or my computer screen that promises the “silver bullet” to our desperation in ministry
• There are the inevitable – "10 ways to stop driving away visitors" or "10 reasons why young people don’t like church" or "10 things you can do now to make sure your church will grow"
• It’s out there every day…frankly…I’m tired of it.
So as you might guess…many people are looking for that Silver bullet – that one thing that could turn things around. Many are convinced…if we just have that one program…or that one doctrinal secret…or something that can “poof," solve our problems than we will embrace it with all our might and turn this baby around. But you know what? There is NO Silver bullet – well, at least there isn’t a silver bullet that is something is easy to apply to our lives. The ONLY silver bullet that exists is something called discipleship and trust me, discipleship…building disciples…building disciples that are not only faithful to Jesus but also are, by nature, reproductive is darn near impossible in what most of contemporary church has become. Discipleship takes a while. Discipleship isn’t about landscaping schemes or building blueprints…it isn’t about getting that right staff person or dynamic pastor…it isn’t really about style of music or whether or not we celebrate communion this week or not. And discipleship is definitely not about doing another church program or having the right sermon series…it just isn’t. Discipleship is about ONE person who desires to follow Jesus learning from Jesus how to follow Him and then teaching and demonstrating to another how to do the exact same thing. And instead of this thing happening once in a while, it happens daily not in church buildings but in coffee shops, living rooms, break rooms, and restaurants around the community.
So, I'm praying. To use Jesus' words, I'm "asking, seeking and knocking." Discipleship is what's needed and I pray that my community embraces its challenge and reaps its rewards. I want a new life cycle…I want new life. How about you?