I spent three days last week with Bishops and Cabinets from across the U.S. They were days packed full of inspiration, information, collaboration, and consultation all around engaging the mission of the Church. From 8:00 in the morning to 8:30 or 9:00 at night we met to worship and to refocus on the purpose at the core of our church.
As I boarded the plane to come home, I took at least three things from our time together:
First: We have incredible leaders. I can’t adequately tell you the level of respect I have for our Episcopal leaders (and that’s not just because our former Grand Rapids Superintendent is one of them now!). Our Bishops are extremely gifted inspiring leaders and I am grateful for the fact that as we go through these challenging days these gifted people are leading us.
Second: We have a great Church. We heard stories of ministries and lives changed from all parts of the country. We heard of faithful pastors and lay people who are finding creative and unique ways to offer the love of Christ to people in every life circumstance. It was deeply moving to hear the reports of missional engagement and churches growing in all kinds of ways.
Third: We have a significant challenge. Our churches for the most part are not growing and while, as I said, some of the stories were wonderful, they are way too few and far between. The task of shifting our congregations from consumer models to missional models is a heavy lift and it’s even harder as it’s taking place in the virtual absence of people under 30. In our Conference and in others VCI (Vital Church Initiative) and its counterparts are helping, but VCI is a process not a quick fix and Lovett Weem’s “death tsunami” is upon us. The internal conflict over theological understanding and Biblical interpretation within the General Church is also in the mix and creates anxiety around divisions, that for some, seem too deep to overcome.
But friends, we have a great Church! We have incredible leaders! And we have a faithful and gracious God who IS leading and calling us to fulfill the mission given to us all to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. And this church, with these leaders (and that’s ultimately all of us), by the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, can meet our challenges and can see, in the face of our challenges, in the face of struggles, in the face of scarcity, in the face of anything that stands in the way, the fulfillment of our calling. It will take prayer. It will take work. It will take a willingness to let go often of ourselves. But we can do it. With God’s help and grace we can see a new day.