When Do We Stop?
I strongly encourage you to follow this link to a video posted by the Rev. LeeAnne Watkins, Rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul, MN. I found it honest, poignant, painful, and in its own way beautiful because of the courage it took to share. Thank you, LeeAnne. It’s 6 minutes long, and well worth your time.
It raises a number of important questions for me, two of which I want to pose to you. The first is not addressed to the clergy who may be reading this post. Sorry, but I just don’t think we’re in a position to say. Instead, I’m asking it of our people, the folks who come to church but rarely to adult education. So if you’re one who sits in the pews, please answer candidly. We really need to know. And if you’re one usually sitting up front to preach and preside or the one teaching Adult Ed., please pass this on to someone you know. Okay, so here it is, as simple as it is challenging: What would make Adult Education worth your while? What would induce you to stay on Sunday for an extra hour or even come out at another time during the week. Anything? Nothing? Lots of things? What? And, if I may be so bold, if Adult Ed. isn’t working at the church, what would work? Video, web-based, something in people’s homes? Thanks for your candor.
The second question comes from a slightly different angle and is for all: When do we stop…stop trying to do things that clearly aren’t working just because we’ve always done it this way? When do we stop and let programs die even though it hurts our pride, or even our sense of call, to do so? When do we stop giving our time to failed or failing efforts so that we can devote our time, energy, and creativity to developing new ministries, new relationships, new projects that prove more effective and, in this sense, more faithful?
Along these lines, I found the following “reply” to the video helpful:
The first step is: STOP doing it the way we always did it when it stops working. Wait. Look for where God is already active (because God IS active….we just fail to see that because we’re looking in that classroom, small group, program, etc.). I don’t know where that is in your church/community but I am positive that God is alive and well and busy drawing people to God’s self. So do what we as Christians have always done. Let it die. Go out into the wilderness….into the unknown and look with fresh eyes. Pray. Wait. Look. Listen. And when you see that spark of the Spirit, however small it may be, go there and worship. Learn from it. Add some small scrap to that spark. Then a twig. A branch. And a log until you’ve built a bonfire that, like the warmth and light of all fires, will draw people.
This is important stuff, as more and more of us – clergy and everyday Christian alike – realize that we are trying to do ministry, to be the Church, in ways that no longer seem suited to the world we live in. So share this question, get folks you know into the conversation. And please let me know what you think. These are questions we need to take up, even if they’re a little scary.
Note: I hope to take up questions about how we “do church” under the category “church matters” (yes, double entendre intended ). If you’ve got a question about how we do worship, education, faith formation, confirmation, outreach, preaching, or any of a host of other things that matter, post it here and I’ll try to collect them and make them available to the larger community to address. Thanks!