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.