The General Assembly Special Committee on the Nature of the Church in the 21st Century has issued five questions to guide Presbyterians as we seek to “move faithfully into the future.” Cynthia Holder Reich has made these questions available on ecclisio.com and has asked for emailed submissions for publication on that site. The questions are as follows:
- What is your vision for the church in the 21st century?
- What characteristics will draw the great diversity (racial ethnic, age, gender, etc.) of our country into our community of faith in the 21st century?
- What do you think are the highest priorities and challenges for the church in the 21st century?
- What unique voice do we, as Presbyterians in the Reformed tradition, bring regarding vital ministry in churches and in society?
- How do we move the church past division in theology, evangelism and mission to work toward unity in Christ?
These seem like good questions to ponder, whether or not I submit my thoughts to the committee. Here’s a pass at question 1, with other posts to follow.
My vision for the church in the 21st century:
The world in which the church finds itself today is loud, busy and fragmented; there is a hunger for authenticity, rest and wholeness. A 21st century church that seeks to be relevant will find its heart in holding the two great commandments in tension- loving God and loving our neighbors. A vital 21st century church is an organic part of the surrounding community, interested and involved in the issues with which its neighbors are struggling. It glorifies God when gathered together and scattered to proclaim the good news that God cares deeply about the broken world in which we live. The church offers a place of rest and peace, of reconciliation and restoration, even as it offers opportunities to bring wholeness, peace and reconciliation to all of creation.
So much of the pain people have felt from the church stems from our tendency to speak words of justice, mercy and love, but live lives of self-preservation, fear and exclusion. The 21st century church measures success and growth in the number of people who are engaged in discipleship, service and mission in the surrounding community- members or not- as well as the numbers engaged in worship, Christian Education and fellowship activities.
That said, it’s not so much about the numbers as it is the quality of engagement… I think about the fact that I am a “member” of the PTSA at our child’s school. I sent in a check with a form, which is sufficient to be counted toward the percentage of families “involved” at the school. Even if I never stepped foot on campus again. There are members of congregations who have written the check and said the words to gain membership and are rarely seen again. And there are those who are fully engaged in a ministry made possible by a congregation that they can’t bring themselves to “join” (at least in the official sense). A 21st century church embraces that reality.
I envision a church that is open to new ideas, not because it is desperate, but because it embraces the freshness of the Holy Spirit as she breathes new life into faithful people. I see a church that embraces all sorts and sizes of congregations, meeting in all sorts and sizes of places. I see a church that truly embodies the connectionalism we have talked about for centuries- out of necessity and commitment to one another. New communities of faith will need sister churches to pray, offer resources and speak encouragement into their ministries. New technologies will make it easier for congregations to share good ideas, bad ideas and the materials that come along with them.
A 21st century church is a vibrant, exciting place to be a believer. Where we still fuss over details like candles and carpets, where children still go astray and where we will mourn the loss of our faithful pillars. Where we feel anachronistic in those moments we read prayers and psalms with thees and thous. Where we learn to trust God again and again. Where Jesus is the Lord of the heart and the conscience. Where the Holy Spirit empowers us to abide and to walk, to serve and to lead, and to love as God loves us.