There was a lot of whispering around the water cooler. My supervisor was a candidate for Vice President of the department. Many asked, “Was she qualified?” Others thought, “There has never been a woman in this position before,” and “Is she even suitable for the task?” Although there were at least four other candidates, she was chosen to carry the torch of Vice President. Never had I been so proud of my boss of three years. My coworkers and I had a big celebration dinner filled with joy and plenty of gifts to honor her new-found success. Finally, her hard work had paid off and she was headed for bigger and better things.
After the initial excitement died down, I was hit with the news that there would now be a few more additional changes. Although the promotion was a wonderful achievement, I never considered that I would no longer report to my fearless leader. As she moved up the corporate ladder, there was now a new vacancy in the department and things were about to shift. Her current position needed to be filled and I needed a new supervisor.
There was again a lot of whispering around the water cooler. “Who would be the candidate for the new position?” “Would that person be as qualified as my last supervisor?” and “Is this person going to be suitable for the task?” Many candidates began to come into the office. With each interview, anxiety began to build and an unseen dark cloud began to fill the atmosphere. My work environment was encompassed with a state of worry and fear of the unknown. Finally, a new candidate was hired and things began to change.
Through this experience, I realized three things: God is sovereign, change is inevitable and worry and fear is the absence of faith and trust. I often wonder why God sometimes never fully discloses the stipulations of his blessings. For example, even when there is a promotion, we often lose things in the process in order to grow. As God takes us to higher heights and deeper depths, we may lose some friends along the way and may have to endure a lot of negative “whispers” and our faith may be challenged. We may feel uncomfortable at times, but we cannot let fear overtake our hearts, because even though our situation may transform, there is a time and season for every change and this too shall pass.
We must fully trust God that our outcome will be in our favor and even when we go through the process of not knowing the future, there should be a reassurance that God is in control. God encourages us in the book of Deuteronomy 31:6 to “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” He also reminds us in 1 Peter 5:7, to “Cast all our anxiety on Him, because He cares for us.” God is with us, through the journey of moving into the blessings He has prepared for us. He is with us when people speak words filled with questions of doubt and uncertainty and He is with us through the midst of change. Leave the unknown results to God, and never fear the outcome of moving forward.
Have you ever picked up a book that so clearly articulated the stirrings of your heart? Well, Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass has been that book for me. In this book, Diana Butler Bass, a scholar of American culture and religion, argues that Christianity in the United States is experiencing a new spiritual awakening (p. 5). Unfortunately for some, this awakening feels more like destruction. There has been a slow emptying of the pews and churches we so tirelessly erected.
Religious vs. Spiritual
Due to the changes the church is experiencing there has been a proliferation of studies conducted by Barna Group, Pew Research, and other research forums that have studied the religious climate of the United States. These studies include: why millennials are leaving the church, the rise of the “nons” and why the “churched” and “unchurched” alike find themselves skeptical of organized religion etc.. While these studies show there has been a decline in “religiosity” among American citizens, they also reveal that those who no longer consider themselves “religious” are not without faith, spirituality or morality. Rather they are seeking God, purpose, community and meaning beyond the church walls.
Cafeteria Style Faith
Church leaders may be leery of this phenomenon for various reasons. Some may view it as encouraging a “cafeteria style” faith, while others see the harsh reality that it is bad for business. Bass states, “Beginning around 1890, denominations built massive bureaucratic structures, modeling themselves after American businesses, complete with corporate headquarters, program divisions, professional development and marketing departments, franchises (parish churches), training centers, and career tracks. Other than the fact that denominations offered religion as the product, they differed little from other corporations dominating America in the last century” (p. 72). This move to a more business model of church leaves church leaders asking the question: if “faith consumers” are finding ways to engage, express, and live their faith outside of the bureaucratic structures some churches have transformed into, how can the church survive?
Resuscitation or Resurrection
I think, Diana Bass’ assessment that maybe what we are perceiving as religious decline or “church flight” is the beginning of a new spiritual awakening, offers us as the body of Christ the opportunity to decide if we want to continue to resuscitate that which is no longer life-giving or sustaining in our faith communities or if we want to really experience a Resurrection. The only way Resurrection can occur though is if something dies. Maybe instead of trying to revive these bureaucratic structures with new programs, we let it die. We let the old structures and the present ways of “doing church” that get in the way of us “being the church”, fall to the ground. “For unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
Now, please don’t get me wrong as one who grew up in the church and is now a minister, I recognize that there are a lot of ways that local congregations have been life-giving. But, I also recognize the ways in which we have strayed from the basic principle of our faith: to love God, to love ourselves and our neighbors. As one who takes the calling to serve all of God’s creation seriously, I want to continue to find ways to be a part of and foster spaces where this basic principle is lived out in the most ordinary and extraordinary ways. I want to meet people right where they are at and love them. With all the changes that are occurring in the body of Christ and the world at large, I believe the Spirit is ushering in something new…the question is can we perceive it?