I was at a meeting tonight about moving forward into the future with members of one of the churches I serve. There was lots of thought about where the church had been in the past, and much about the challenges facing all churches in the present. But how to move forward ... that's the million dollar question.
My own thoughts on this (most of which I didn't share in the meeting) begin with the observation that a great deal of the rhetoric coming from church leaders emphasizes the need to connect with young people, yet most of the congregations that I minister to are not young. I even heard Pete Ward at Greenbelt say that congregations that are past their sell by date should just be left to die. I beg to differ. We live in a culture that is very youth orientated, and even invites older people to participate in the rather ridiculous task of trying to maintain (or regain) their youth. The church should not follow the culture in this respect. Rather it should value the people it has. There is great value in the older members, even if they don't speak like Eminem.
My second reflection (which I did share) is that we need to regain a sense of vocation. What is the vocation of our church, at all of its various levels? What are we called to be and to do? How do we go about discerning this, both individually and corporately? This latter point seems to me crucial. There are any number of books that purport to tell us what is wrong with the church and how to fix it. But how do we as a community discern what God is calling us to do together? This does not allow for quick fixes, but requires the difficult and compromised task of listening to each other and to God.
Finally, and this links the two points, that vocation will be God's call to the church as it is. We don't need to be something different for God to call us. God will use us as we are, he won't wait until we are perfect. It will be our gifts that he uses, our words, our ideas. Of course, as we follow his call we won't stay the same.
None of this tells us exactly what to do. That requires the longer process of prayer, discussion and discernment. But it may offer some pointers that will stop us missing the voice of God.