This past Sunday, I drove to church for worship with anxieties and doubts filling my head. Feeling called to denominational life, I worry about the future of the church. Really, I worry about the future of my job or my calling. If I am called to lead ministry leaders, where do I fit into the future. It is an incredibly naval gazing way to live out call and these moments are not something I’m especially proud of.
I read a lot of articles and books in my efforts to resource others and it seems to me there has been an onslaught of writers that are now proudly jumping on the bandwagons crying for change in our churches. They are proudly exclaiming to those who are still inside the church walls that they will have to change, have to close many of the church doors and reimagine them. There seems to be a new pride in their voices and they speak to something that really at this point, we all know needs to be changed. It is nothing new to say that church will have to look different in the future and it does not take a vision caster to say that the world of denominations and the Christian religion will look different in ten, twenty, fifty years. But, when I listen to a lot of these bandwagon jumpers, my stress can increase. I get worried about the future and my place in it.
Oh, I will challenge churches to think about church differently. I will challenge them to think about the possibilities outside the walls. The greatest frustration when I was pastoring was that I felt like we were too often just making decisions that would keep the doors of our church open for the members of our church the longest. I am not sure that is really living out the gospel, either.
So, on Sunday, I’m driving to church with all of my doubts about church as we know it rolling around in my head and my gut. The church I’m visiting, First Baptist of Richmond, is having work done on their sanctuary and so this was the first Sunday meeting in the gym for worship. It is an awkward space to say the least and by the time I got there, I was sitting way in the back. I could not really see the platform. The sound wasn’t working well in the way back and I had a moment where I felt like all those doubts that had been rolling around were just confirmed. What was the point of this? Why was I crammed into this awkward space where I couldn’t clearly hear what was going on, couldn’t see what was happening? It was a beautiful morning, I could be worshiping God out there somewhere…getting some exercise, sitting out in the sun, etc.
And then one of the pastors got up to pray. He spoke in his prayer about coming together to do the most important work of the church, worshiping God. He prayed for the important work we would be doing that morning. That we wouldn’t be distracted and that in that time we would be reminded of just who God is in our world and in our lives. He prayed that we would feel the weight of the importance of worshiping God and that we’d feel the value of doing this most important work.
There has been some criticism from folks my age that it doesn’t seem right that we are called to be light in the world and yet we separate ourselves every Sunday morning. I once heard Patrick Johnson, a pastor from Connecticut who has done his pHd work in missional preaching, challenge that the most counter cultural thing we do, the biggest statement we make to our world, is to separate ourselves for an hour a week to worship God. To say in that time that nothing is more important.
I do think there are a lot of changes on the horizon for our modern churches and denominations but the reality will always remain that we need worship. We need spaces to separate from the world and be reminded who God is and who we are and are not. It is the most important work that we do. And in my best moments, in the moments where I don’t listen to the panicky voices or the voices of band wagon jumping “visionaries” that tell me we should close all the doors to the churches and just get over it, I know we will always need church. We will never lose the need to worship our creator. I will always have a place that I can be reminded there is a God who is worthy of worship, who is worthy of praise and who is worthy of my life and calling.