Here goes a very short article. I’m speed reading yet another book about renewing the church by a respected author with his heart and pen in the right place. It’s all good advice, and very well intended. If pastors and parish administrators paid any attention to it, they would probably reap the benefits, but, of course, they won’t.
I think we ought to dump all of it, and just get on with the business of proclaiming the gospel day by day. Everyone who enters the church door should be told about God in Christ Jesus as if they had never heard of him before. Those who are new to their faith should be introduced to it in simple but not unsophisticated terms. Those who are further along should find their education about Christianity, and their development as disciples, advanced step by step. That’s it. Amen!
Forget about most everything else. Focus on that. There is one caveat. Be loyal to your tradition. I am an Episcopalian, a little on the high church side. It’s important to me that I proclaim, without apology, the gospel within the context of our Anglican tradition.
That can be a problem if people in the congregation don’t know what the denomination stands for, and what it stands for counts. It’s important. Some years ago we had a few active members in a congregation I served who were determined to make it into a conservative evangelical place. Why? I never knew, but it was wrong. It’s not that we have only one way of doing things. Here and there we Episcopalians tolerate congregations that enjoy living in the make believe world of medieval Salisbury England, and that’s OK as long as they keep it to themselves. Others are so self righteously open minded that it’s hard to know what their theology is, and that’s OK too in its own place and time. What keeps it together is the center that wobbles around Virginia Seminary Protestantism and General Seminary Catholicism, both firmly rooted in Anglican tradition.
Having said that, the Episcopal Church’s triennial convention, charged with maintaining the center while it evolves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to speak to a changing world, vacuums up enormous amounts of energy and cash. For the most part it’s an exercise in futility enjoyed to the hilt by select minions who revel in bureaucratic, quasi legislative, minutiae that, in the Bard’s words, amount to sound and fury signifying nothing. Only infrequently does anything that happens there have an impact on what goes on in the daily life of an average congregation. It’s not that the institution is unimportant, it is very important. We need it, and we need it to be as tidy and efficient as possible, doing what it can to provide a forum for theological conversation, and to create helpful resources for local use. Sometimes it does that, but not often. Mostly it’s just in the way.
So back to the book, and almost all other books like it. It wants to speak to the whole church, but it speaks mostly to urban – suburban congregations, many with multiple staff. That’s nice, but most of our congregations have ASA of under fifty served by one clergy who may not be full time. What help they need with institutional renewal can be provided best informally by qualified persons giving on site counsel. Even more than that, they need a little guidance on ways to better proclaim the gospel, educate new and veteran believers, and stay out of trouble over the basics of church administration.
Proclaim the gospel from within your tradition and don’t worry so much about the rest of it.