Moving Ahead

21 Apr

Following my post the other day about pastors health John Smulo has written The Charmed Life of Pastors. In his post John says that he thinks the statistics show a systemic problem, he asks how we have got to this place, and how do we move ahead? This, and comments I’ve received on my blog over the past few days, have got me thinking about church in general.

Church is an institutional system which isn’t really working any more. If you spoke to most people on the street, they would probably tell you that they think church is full of bigots and that they have no intention of stepping into one. How and when did church loose it’s place in society? Why is it most Christians only associate with other Christians, and are glad that they are not “of the world” any more? Why do we look like some private members club? People are leaving institutional church in droves, and most are not “backsliding” as they church likes to suggest.

A lot are forming communities, being missional, trying to do church as they think God intended. How do you think church will look in the future? I think my children will have a very different church experience – but I think this will only happen if Jonathan and I help them to experience church in all it can be. I really think institutional church will die out over the next thirty years or so, as Michael Frost says, it will end up looking like a stamp collectors club. What is the way forward? How do we support leaders who are trying to engage in something new?


9 Responses to “Moving Ahead”

  1. former pw April 21, 2007 at 19:26 #

    are you familiar with the folks over at the god journey?

  2. Jim April 21, 2007 at 23:19 #


    I am not so sure traditional church will “die out”. For one, while there are all of us here in the blogosphere that seem to be searching for something else, there seems to still be a LOT of people who like things in church Just Fine. They WANT church-as-club. They want to be able to go an hour a week and come out feeling good about themselves and know they have done their “spiritual duty” and are raising their kids right, and now can get on with their day off. After all, many were raised in just this way, and so were their parents. It is all they know. And while we can say the younger generations won’t put up with that, there are many young adults that end up wanting to have the same life their parents had – maybe not in their twenties, but in their thirties and forties, when they start to settle down and raise families. (Count me weird, I guess, ’cause here I am looking for something new and different at 46.)

    I guess I am pessimistic because most people seem not to want to be challenged, to be missional, to stretch their boundaries and comfort zones. Maybe I am mistaken – I hope I am. But I think ultimately the traditional church will be there, just like the Republican and Democratic parties will most likely continue to be the two main “choices”. I have resigned myself to being in a “splinter party” both in religion and politics. So be it. That doesn’t mean there’s no worth to challenging the status quo. Our vote is not “lost” no matter what the mainstream tries to tell us in either church or the polls.

    So, that rant out of the way, how do I think church will look in the future? That’s a really good question! I don’t think I have an answer. Will home churches continue? Will it be some sort of distributed experience? I guess the image in my head, for which there is almost no existing model (besides perhaps the Salvation Army) is something that merges church and mission at the same time. Something that brings back the early Church where all were together regardless of class or circumstance. But don’t take that as some utopian vision. I have sincere doubts that such can ever be more than a marginal exercise.

  3. lynhallewell April 22, 2007 at 07:19 #

    former pw – yes, I’m aware of them – I’ve recently seen the video they put together with Family Room Media.

    Jim – I hear what you’re saying. I agree with what you’re saying, your pessimism etc However if you look around most churches there isn’t really many people below the thirty age group, if this continues, I think the institution will die out. Most people under thirty really aren’t interested in church, programmes etc. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens. BTW – you’re not weird looking at something new at 46, it actually excites me that people in the 40+ age group are seeking new things as well.

  4. Dave April 23, 2007 at 13:01 #

    Lyn, this post has had me thinking a lot, and I would like to respond, you know you said ‘church is an institutional system which isn’t really working any more’, well I think it is working, and thats the problem for you maybe, church is working wonderfully I think. It is an institution obsessed with salvation and gaining converts (like Judaism and Islam) and whilst it may not be claiming many new ones, it is still fulfilling its cultural objectives of weddings, funerals and baptism’s.

    I think there has been a drift away for the last 2000 years or so, and one of the reasons is because, as you say ‘most Christians only associate with other Christians, and are glad that they are not “of the world” any more’

    I think as you say ‘a lot are forming communities, being missional, trying to do church as they think God intended’. This is admirable and expected, but is there not a danger that they will repackage church to make it relevant.

    I was reading around some of the other moves (methodism, pentecostalism and the charismatic thing), and each one seemed to say (in their relevant cultural language) similar things to what we are seeing in emergent now. Maybe the church our children will experience (or not if I can help it with mine) will be a 25 year old emergent thing, and maybe our children will react as this generation is now.

    I think there has always been this struggle and violence between the church and the Kingdom, who planted weeds in the field?

  5. lynhallewell April 23, 2007 at 16:12 #

    Actually institutional church isn’t working for me – that’s the problem.
    No, I don’t believe church will be re-packaged. A lot of people are moving into secular communities and running things like coffee houses, shoe shops etc and creating community around them – but “church service” is right at the bottom of their lists.
    A lot of christian communities have been given the “emergent” tag by people outside of them. Have a look at the netcast I’ve attached today in which Ryan Bolger describes the “emergent” “missional” movements. People are really trying to get into their communities, into the cultures around them and reach into them – not to get converts – not to create a new type of church service, but just to be, and allow God to do the rest.

  6. Dave April 23, 2007 at 17:15 #

    hi lyn, you may misunderstand me, ‘institutional church’ is working, not for you I know, but for the purpose it is created to be it is doing fine.
    I think for the emergent/missional people it is time to just leave the IC to be what it is. We are definately a community that has gone to where you suggest others are going and as you say ‘church service’ is bottom of the list (well its not even on there actually) We are into our community because we live there, just like you guys down in your community.

    Heres an interesting question…If you left the institutional church and stayed in the place you live now, how would you be missional there without a church framework to work through, just the few of you?

    Will listen to Ryan later, thanks for the link

  7. Paul April 24, 2007 at 10:50 #

    Hi Lyn, great thoughts. i think however that there is a danger here that we just idealise church, in doing so we merely replace one form of institution with another. We try and construct what we think is a better form of church and blind ourselves to the reality that the church is an imperfect agency – we can see the failures and faults of what we leave behind but to imagine that we will do any better is to ignore 2,000 yrs of church history. We will just do it differently, we will make mistakes, have blind spots and continue to fall out with each other. Slapping a missional label on us, even doing missional things will not change that.

    I say it not to put a downer on being missional, which i think is a welcome correction to modernity, but because i feel we are in danger of writing off what has gone before as institutional church as we seek to create just that for ourselves.

    Perhaps we need to be more honest about ourselves and own our transition? That we are seeking to find a form of church expression that reflects where we are but that does not mean that what has gone before is bad just different and that what comes now is not better just different.

    What do you think?

  8. lynhallewell April 24, 2007 at 12:10 #

    Yes, I agree with your points Paul. There are some very beautiful things which have come from institutional church – it is part of our heritage and history and we should embrace it. I don’t want new forms of church – emerging/missional – to be about constantly knocking down IC. It’s recognising what we have gained from our walk in the IC, but embracing the fact that to reach the next generations (and maybe for our own sanity!) we have to do something new.

  9. Paul April 24, 2007 at 22:17 #

    lyn, absolutely – the new thing from God is awesome, great and welcomed, we should embrace it, enjoy it and be changed by it. Then again as you say we should also celebrate the old thang too, cos one day we’ll be it 🙂

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