Hope for the future of the church in the United States…

I just began re-reading David Fitch‘s excellent book “The Great Giveway:  Reclaiming the mission of the church…” yesterday.  It’s been awhile since I’ve picked this book up, but the timing seemed right again, and I wanted to be reminded of Fitch’s strong critiques and hopes expressed for the church again.  I remembered being captivated by his chapter titles (listed following) when I first picked the book up:

Ch 1   Our Definition of Success
When going from ten to a thousand members in five years is the sign of a sick church
Ch 2  Evangelism
Saving souls beyond modernity; how evangelism can save the church and make it relevant again
Ch 3  Leadership
When evangelical pastors end up in moral failure: the missing link between the pastorate and the virtues
Ch 4 The Production of Experience
Why worship takes practice: toward a worship that forms truthful minds and faithful experience (not merely reinforces the ones we walked in with)
Ch 5 The Preaching of the Word
The myth of expository preaching:  why we must do more than wear scrolls on our foreheads
Ch 6 Justice (our understanding of)
Practicing redeemed economics:  Christian community in but not of Capitalism

As you could imagine from the chapter titles, David brings a strong critique of the church in our society.  Because I’m more of a contrarian by nature, I picked this book up about five years back for $1.25 in a seminary book sale.  Because I’ve evolved to be less of a contrarian, desiring more to hear constructing (building) comments, and more suspicious of works that claim a “revolutionary” or “dangerous” message for the status quo, I often flip to the back of those books to see if the authors offer a hopeful way forward in addition to their critique.   I inserted a church bulletin into the back of the book about four years ago in the exact place that David offers his hopeful way forward, and I was greatly encouraged to read it again today.

David’s words sharing his hopes bear repeating here in my personal space because I value many of the same things David values when it comes to church.  In addition, I believe David and I share those values NOT because they come natural or seem common sense to us, but because we’ve submitted to a process of discipleship in the way of Jesus that sometimes confirms, sometimes alters, and sometimes destroys what previously seemed natural or common sense to us.  It is a commitment to the Lordship of Jesus rather than the Lordship of Me. 

Unlike other “manifesto”-type writings which seem to ramble all over the place, David Fitch’s thoughts have an internal consistency that help to focus thought and action. David’s desires for the church follow:

“I imagine our congregations becoming smaller, not bigger, yet teeming with the life of (Jesus’) body.  And I hope there are more of them, so many of them, in fact, that they become the alternative to the Starbucks of our day.

I hope our churches become known for servanthood in the neighborhoods and warm hospitality that invites strangers into our homes.

I pray that the home of every evangelical person becomes an incubator of evangelism, inviting strangers to the gospel out of their lostness and into the love and grace of life in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I imagine real fellowship in our congregations, the kind that shares joys and sufferings and potluck meals.

I pray our leaders take on the form of humble servants who sit, listen, and suffer with real people through many years of leading them through this life in Jesus Christ.

I hope we leave behind the CEO models of leadership.

I look for our worship services to become liturgical places that form our people into faithful participants in the life of God.  May we renew the sense of God’s mystery, beauty, and transcendence in our worship services through the rehearsal of his great work in Jesus Christ.  In the process, may many postmodern wanderers be drawn into his life by his majestic wonder and the compelling story of the forgiveness and new life made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I hope our congregations look more diverse both economically and racially.

Dare I imagine that each member’s bank account becomes submitted to the King and to each other through some symbolic act as we gather around the Table of our Lord?

I long for the day we become model communities for a new politics that spreads God’s redeeming justice to the poor and the racially divided.

I hope we see small groups that renew the monastic practices of confession, repentance, reading Scripture, and prayer for our day.

And most of all, may our churches become communities that nurture and care for children in the way we conduct catechesis communally, adopt the “unplanned” children, and invite all children into everyday life with God.

To me this all sounds like a truly amazing way of life.”

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