Hope for the Church: “I’m not dead…!”

I’m here in Memphis for the Emergence Christianity event with Phyllis Tickle and friends. I was lucky enough to be asked to be a part of a group of people spending the day with Phyllis on Thursday, as we brainstorm about emergence Christianity and the future of the church. I’m so looking forward to the conversations we’ll have. As I was thinking about that conversation and being here for the event, I tweeted this:

I’m hoping that this week is informative, generative, hopeful, and imaginative about the future of the church. It’s not dead yet… [link]

And I think that’s true…we’re not dead yet. The church isn’t dead yet. There is hope and beauty and potential with the church…but as I mentioned in my previous post, we have to be ready and willing to do things differently. And…although the church isn’t dead yet, I do think it would be good for all of us (pastors, seminarians, professors, lay people) to realize that we are headed down that track, and we need to wake up to that reality. The church is often acting a bit too much like the “almost dead” man in the Monty Python clip below:

Can’t you hear the church saying these things? “I’m not dead. I’m not dead! I’m not! I’m getting better! I don’t want to go on the cart. I feel fine! I think I’ll go for a walk. I feel happy! I feel happy!”

How many churches do you know that aren’t facing the music, aren’t seeing their declining membership, declining worship attendance…and someone comes along crying out “Bring out your dead!” and mistakes them for a dead church, and yet they’re crying out “We feel happy! We feel happy! Things are okay! We aren’t dead yet!”

I want to be able to be an optimist here…I do agree that the church as a whole isn’t dead yet…but, we need to acknowledge that we’re very much on that path unless things change, unless we have the courage to do things differently, understand our ministries differently and be open to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

I have a joke with Sarah that every time she preaches, she’s able to work in the phrase “failure of imagination.” That’s kind of her thing…and honestly, I wish it was a thing for more of us. That, I think, is so often what our problem is, what our church’s problem is, what our denomination’s problem is…we all suffer from a failure of imagination. Brian Andreas, creator of StoryPeople, puts it like this:

In my dream, the angel shrugged & said, If we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination & then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.


What has been placed gently in the palm of your hand? And are you failing because of a failure of imagination? Or are you failing because of someone else’s failure of imagination that is stifling or killing your imagination? I think this is a good place to start  when we think about the future of the church.

And my hope for the next few days is none of us would suffer from a failure of imagination. But that we would feel that this is a safe place where we can let our imaginations run wild…and trust that God is at work through all of that.


  1. says

    For those of us who can’t be there, glad you are. I went to several emergent conversations with the PCUSA 10-12 years ago; our world has changed a lot since then. Have a great time, be yourself, open up to ideas and keep blogging.

  2. trish says

    I really appreciated this…and have shared it on our church FB wall…in the hope, that others will begin to wonder where our imagination has wandered, as well.

  3. Jeremy Watson says

    My first response to this is that there are creative pastors and church leaders out there, but there are a lot of roadblocks in the way that effectively kill that creativity, at least in the PCUSA.
    – it’s difficult to sell a creative vision in a tired institution,
    – generational differences are hard to translate,
    – pastors and leaders fail to engage others in collective creativity,
    – it takes a long time to understand a community and culture, but I have usually felt the need to bring creative leadership almost immediately,
    – there’s a natural desire for security and safety (especially for the elderly),
    – people are devoted to the existing programs and institutions that they’ve sacrificed to build,
    – it’s hard to let go of the dream of returning to the “Golden Age”,
    – we are hamstrung by buildings, budgets, and maintaining the institution,
    – usually we have to fail a few times before we hit a home run, and there’s not much room for failure.
    The imminent death of those institutions sometimes frees us up to be bold. Sometimes it makes us more fearful and inward-focused. I didn’t mean to write that much.

    I’m looking forward to hearing more from your conversations, Adam.

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