A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Crazy Ideas For a New Way of Being Church

I've been dreaming a bit lately.  Dreaming about rain.  Pondering what it will mean if we don't get any. But, I have also been doing some optimistic dreaming about the church. Lynn and I have done a lot of talking and thinking about the future of the church but have had difficulty getting a clear picture of the practicalities of new ways of being church.  Lately things have started coming together a bit in my mind and I thought I would share these ideas here.  Not that I think I am right or have all the answers but so that others can critique these ideas, share their own ideas, and the future church might be formed by such conversations.  So, here are some of the ideas floating around in my head lately.

For me it is crucial for church to be focused on service.  We've talked about the importance of flexibility in the church.  We know that a large portion of church budgets are directed toward maintaining the building.  I have heard a bit lately about church without walls or mobile church.  So, I have been dreaming about gathering each week at a different location in order to engage in service.   We might gather one week at a Habitat Home and help with construction breaking at some point for a worship service.  We might gather another week at The Reuse It Center (a local organization that sells left over building materials,  used appliances and such with the money going to charity) and sort bolts, wash windows and such while engaging in worship together.  Another week might be at a nursing home, a homeless shelter, an animal shelter, the site of a disaster, going wherever we can help and finding ways to worship within the context of our service.

This would require flexibility and creativity.  Not everyone is physically able to do every kind of service work.  We would need to be creative in finding work for everyone at every site.  It might require a new frame of mind.  Growth would not be the goal.  Few places could handle a hundred volunteers descending upon them at once.  We would have to do good work in a respectful manner.  We would be asking these organizations to share their hospitality with us.  It would be important to work hard and not attempt to push our beliefs on anyone so that people would want us to come.  

Whatever the future church looks like it is important to realize it might not appeal right away to those who are already in church.  Those who are already there, are there because they get something out of traditional, institutional church (minus a few malcontents like me).  It is those who have left church or who have never been a part of the church who might be drawn to something different.  Somehow this conversation needs to reach those people.  I am not sure how to do this.  I am pretty sure talking about tradition, the way we have always done things, the irresponsibility and lack of commitment of those who don't come to church, rejecting questioning, and so on are not it.

What are your ideas or dreams for the future church?  How do you think we could invite those outside of the church into this conversation?


Charlene said...

Two words: "process oriented".

I think that really sums it up, for me. As a leaver, that is. Of course, you'll be continually running into people who have been traumatized by Augustine-loving, Calvinist-leaning, patriarchal traditions of Christianity...so that does make more work for you. Than for, say, the Buddhists or the Wiccans or the atheists (who are new enough on the American scene to have not created unwieldy institutions yet).

Seriously, your willingness to listen to and learn from unbelievers is probably the biggest single change I'd like to see take hold in the church at large. And...thank you.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks, Charlene. I'd love to hear more about what "process oriented" looks like to you. I certainly agree willingness to listen is a trait the Christian church most often lacks. I think it is scary to listen. You might find out you are wrong.

Charlene said...

I guess to me, process oriented religion/faith/practice is all about the here and now. It's appropriating myths and practices to improve one's daily life, and thereby the world. (After all, you can't do much for anybody else unless you've made sure to nourish yourself first.) Different people will naturally gravitate toward different myths and different practices, and that's alright. And it's also about the willingness to recognize that different things work for different people at different times.

That doesn't sound like much really, but when placed next to the system I grew up in, in which there was One True Way for everyone, in which individual experience and preference didn't matter to the point of not even really existing, in which the here and now was constantly sacrificed for the hope of a reward after death...it's pretty radical.

It is scary to listen. Especially if your entire life is built upon your way being the One and Only True Way. Any other perspective is a potential threat in that case. I honestly doubt I ever would have listened much if events and circumstances hadn't got so extreme as to force an evaluation of what I was doing. I guess I should thank the abusive ex for that, if I ever see him again.

Charlene said...

Hmmm...maybe I should clarify about the myths. I think myths are what we use to make sense of our psychological experiences, of our inner space. Some are ancient, some modern. What I got out of that PDF that you sent me on process-oriented Christianity was how to use the story of Jesus as this kind of orienting myth. Does that make sense?

When one uses myths this way, the historical context of the writing may be relevant, but the actual historical truth of what's written is much less so. It's about psychological truth, not history.

That's my 2 cents, anyhow.