As we’re all in the midst of Advent longing, I realize that I’m turning 40 in a couple of days. Which puts me in an odd position, since I write and speak about ministering with people in their 20s and 30s.
More than half of our small congregations cannot afford a full-time pastor, and many
associate pastor positions were cut during the recent economic downturn.
These are churches where
seminary graduates would normally be heading, so what are the
congregations doing instead?
It’s scary. Sometimes, we Scrappers have to swallow our pride in order to start working with the institution that turned us away. Often, Scrappers develop autonomy and a certain voice that we fear we'll lose if we move into partnership with an established organization. We worry that the structure will steal our ideas and they'll have the money and power to pull them off—without us.
When I combined the popular ideas of God in my mind, I ended up with a strange stew—a lover God who would torture me with fire if I stepped out of line and bless me with diamonds if I obeyed. In other words, my image of God had a serious borderline personality disorder.
After a couple of years of sweating over each syllable, I suddenly needed the words. I hungered to write them. On vacations, my family urged me to take a break and I
became cranky. What happened? How did the words begin to grow like wildflowers
that I no longer had to coddle?
We have the tendency to define adulthood, and even ourselves, by our employment and our ability to exist independently. But in our difficult economic situation, isn't it time to rely on our rich theology and redefine our notions of self?
I was sitting with a woman—a Mainline Christian woman—and we were
chatting about my background. I explained to her that my family is
politically and theologically conservative but that I had changed many
of the views that I grew up with as a young adult. She shook her head,
sighed, and said, “Well, people just need more education, that’s all.”
I got into a car recently, with another female pastor and an
Evangelical man. I asked the guy about his church and he said, “I go to a
church where men’s leadership is very important. Men don’t go to church
any more. And so our church puts men in leadership so that it will
attract more men.”
A friend of mine realized that she only had one friend who went to
church. As someone who cares deeply about the church, she wondered why
it was. And so she began to ask them, “Why don’t you go to church?”
The answers startled her. It wasn’t what she was expecting at all.
The number one answer that she received was, “I can’t afford it.”
A commissioner to the General Assembly (our denomination’s national
meeting that happens every two years), came back to report on what he
did. He was a bit disappointed that he was on the church growth
committee. The first day they sat down and talked about how if the
church continues to decline at the same rate, then there will be no
members left in forty years.