Posts Tagged ‘future’

I have been reading Alan Roxburgh‘s new book, “Structured for Mission: Renewing the Culture of the Church“. He asks some tough questions in it. One question he says that every level of the church needs to ask is, “What are the challenges we currently for for which we presently have no answer but must address if we’re to live into God’s future for us?” When churches are anxious about the future, they have a tendency to rush to find a solution and slap a ‘fix’ on the problem. It’s a way of maintaining the illusion of control. It’s a way of sidelining God. We find a way forward as we wrestle together with the question deeply enough that we are confronted with what only God can and is doing for us and among us.

Another question he asks is, “What is the originating story around which your denomination/church was built?” I think that he means for us to get past the official party lines. What is the real story, among the local congregations or communities of faith? I was reminded of a talk Douglas John Hall gave over thirty years ago at the Annual Meeting of London Conference (1983). He encouraged us to remember the originating story, or dream, which motivated our ancestors. What kept them going? In Canada, they were largely history’s victims, poor oppressed people who were driven here by persecution in Europe. They came here looking for new possibilities because they faced impossibilities in the Old World. They were victims of famine, persecution, social and political and economic revolutions. Because they were displaced persons, their dreams were modest and humble, born of necessity. They were the dreams of the wretched of the earth and so were firmly rooted in reality.

They didn’t see themselves as masters. They saw themselves as recipients of unwarranted grace and favour. They were not in charge of the process but they also had a sense of great responsibility — as stewards of this land, not as owners, masters or possessors.

He said, “Where have we come from? Poor and unremembered people who were nevertheless the bearers of a beautiful and very human vision. We shall have to recover it if we are not be victims of the greed and destruction of this age. Those who are in charge of things are prisoners of a success story in which simplicity, contentment no longer has a place.”

I wonder if a similar story could be told about the people and congregations who made up the United Church of Canada in its beginnings? What were their dreams and hopes? Not the dreams and hopes of the political types who led the governance structures into union, but of the ordinary, local people who kept the congregations going week after week. They believed in the union enough to find a way through the upheaval and disruption that it caused in their communities and families. What motivated them? What sustained them? What was their faith in God that shaped them? What was the life formed by that story?

It would be good to know. Then, we could wrestle with the question, “What would it look like to improvise that story into our own time?”

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This post is the fourth in a series of post that I am re-posting from another blog that I will be discontinuing.  The posts are about the shift from a pastoral to a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The first post in this series is an introduction to some of the terms.

The second post reflected on the following difference:

The pastoral church asks,   “How many visits are being made?”
The missional church asks, “How many disciples are being made?”

The third post considers this difference:

When contemplating change, the pastoral church says: “This might upset some of our members, so we had better not do it.”  

When contemplating change, the missional church says: “This could help to reach someone outside; so let’s take the risk and do it.”

This post reflects on this difference:
The pastoral church says: “We must be faithful to our past.”
The missional church says: “We must be faithful to our future.”

Things are somewhat more complex than these two statements might imply. The missional church is faithful to the past — it’s just that the faithfulness to the past, to our heritage and tradition, is one of working creatively with what has been given in order to engage the present in new, life-giving ways.

The distinction that is being made in the comparison is between preserving familiar customs and being willing to give those customs up for the sake of participating in the new future God is creating. That is the pattern of living we entered into in our baptism: learning to let go of that to which we are clinging for the sake of receiving the gifts God wants to offer to us. “Dying” in order to be raised to new life.

The critical issue for the missional church is that the congregation needs to go beyond the familiar recent past and delve deeply into the traditions of the Church. It needs to know that tradition well enough to be able to be both faithful to it and creative with it when adapting it to a new context.

Diana Butler Bass calls this ‘fluid retraditioning’. She describes it in The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church . Robert E. Webber also wrote from a perspective of working creatively and adaptively with the tradition, especially in relationship to worship.

Often congregations that want to move creatively into the future find that they are hindered by the fact that so many of their members are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition and basic Christian theology. They cannot work with it because they do not know it. An ‘introduction to Christian doctrine’ group might not excite much interest. The way into Christian tradition is through its stories, the narratives of the scriptures. As people enter into those stories, their imaginations get shaped in different ways. They themselves begin to see the world differently. They themselves begin to act in the world differently.

What are the favourite scriptures stories in your congregation? What do they say about who you are, whose you are, and what you are called to be?


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A prayer for an anniversary Sunday, reflecting on Psalm 42 and Luke 8: 26 -39.

God of our deepest longings,
you love us with a deep and abiding love
that never lets us go.

In Jesus, you have met us where we are
and claimed us as your own,
and summoned us into your holy work in the world.

Gathered here on this special day,
we remember before you those times
when it was easier to be your people:
when the pews were full,
when the children were plentiful,
when our hearts were full of laughter.

We remember those days with joy and gratitude.
Yet, even as we remember,
we confess that you have led us into a time
when being your people,
being your church,
is harder than we were expecting
or looking for.

You have called us to follow you
but you have ventured into strange territory
— beyond our settled ways of doing things
— beyond our comfort zones

We are not sure what it will mean to be your people
in this new time and place.
Sometimes it feels like we are dying.

Easter Jesus,
you died and are alive among us.
You can turn all our dead ends
into the stunning gift of new life.
Teach us now radical trust in you
and in your resurrecting power.
Give us now the courage to follow
your Holy Spirit
who leads in such wild, untamed ways.

Easter us.
We place our lives
and the life of this congregation
in your good keeping.

We pray in the name of the One
who has gone ahead
and filled the future with grace and truth.


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Last Sunday was “Good Shepherd Sunday“. In a sermon that Ed Searcy preached last year, “I don’t need anything else”, he asks:

“Where is the Good Shepherd leading us? What will faithful, sustainable, vital flocks of Christian disciples who name themselves The United Church of Canada look like in five or ten or twenty years? What are we to continue? What must die? What is being born in our life together?”

Ed asks some good questions, even if the answers will only be found as we take each step as God opens it up to us. I am struck again and again in my reading that the church is not able to discern the answers without going deep in prayer. We need to allow times of silence and listening and waiting to permeate our decision-making.

What we’re most used to in the United Church, however, is attending to process questions and technological solutions: What are the rules? Are we following them? What new rules and procedures can we apply to this situation so that we can move forward?

I suspect that we default to rules and procedures because we fear losing control (or, rather, the illusion of control). We are uncomfortable with mystery. Times of silence, of listening, of waiting on God take us out of the control centre of our lives. God seems to prefer working with messes than with tidy, tightly controlled procedures. Jesus used stories rather than principles and lists to invite us into God’s way of doing things.

I wonder, “What would it look like in our congregations if we were ‘gospel-story-based’ rather than rules-procedures-process based?” What if our default action when we were struggling with questions about future directions was to look for a scriptural story that we could ‘sit under’ or ‘host’ together? What if we hosted the story (listening to it, praying it, wondering together about the questions it raised) until the next step became clear?

It would take longer, no doubt. We would have to be willing to live gently with ambiguities and unresolved issues. We would have to love one another enough to engage in honest conversation with each other. We would have to trust God enough to let some unsettledness do its work among us.

This life of faith/trust sure is challenging!





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Set in the company of saints

A prayer for All Saints’ Day 

You are our God and we are Your people,

and we are grateful that

You have claimed us as your own.

You have set us in the company of saints

past and present,

among those who have made bold witness

to Your goodness and Your truth.

Your Word opens up new futures

where we see no way forward.

You know the places in our hearts

where we are afraid

— afraid of a future we cannot control;

— afraid of losing health and independence

— afraid for the well-being of our children

— afraid that past mistakes will ruin our future

Write the stories of your people deep into our hearts

so that we may learn to trust you beyond our fears.

Give us hearts and minds and spirits

ready to trust and follow wherever your Spirit leads,

confident that you will not lead us

beyond your loving embrace.

We ask in Jesus’ name whose outstretched arms welcome us and hold us securely in your grace.

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