What are we doing?

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Last week, I sat in my home office in a Zoom meeting with other clergy from the Rock Hill District. We went through the usual: prayer and prayer requests, announcements, and for this time of year, questions about charge conferences. These are all standard, normal things to talk about and in all honesty, the combination of fighting the flu and boredom at the same time was almost enough to make me excuse myself and lean into being sick.

Around the time I was feeling “sicker enough” to step away, we started discussing an article sent to us by the DS called, “Six Reasons Your Pastor is About to Quit” by Thom Rainer (https://churchanswers.com/blog/six-reasons-your-pastor-is-about-to-quit/). This wasn’t the first article I’ve heard about addressing the subject of pastor burnout or people leaving the ministry but it was recent so I thought I would hang around for the discussion. I’m glad I did because that discussion led someplace the article did not necessarily point to and an interesting subject: paradigm shifts.

Paradigm shifts are an interest of mine, sort of an off shoot of human behavior. In my way of thinking, paradigm shifts or changes in the way we think about ideas, is at the heart of following Jesus. When Jesus came on the scene, his first sermons were about paradigm shifts, Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The word repent is the Greek word metanoia which literally means, change your direction, of put another way, shift your paradigm. In essence, we are constantly shifting our understanding of paradigm to match that of Jesus as we are led by the Holy Spirit in our following of Jesus.

Back to the meeting. As we talked about the challenges pastors deal with—various theologies and politics among church members, pastoring in the time of Covid, expectations and responsibilities of family, church, and denomination—I began to think about something, something a little uncomfortable, a little subversive, a little dangerous.

We. Are. Doing. This. Wrong.

My thoughts went back to the early church and a paradigm shift I believe made much of the New Testament’s church’s faith and practice foreign to us. Before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, the church was a persecuted, growing, but still minor religion. Most early Christians worshiped not in official buildings but in private homes. The teachings of Christianity were a practice to be lived not a dogma, a way of life rather than a declaration. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, an official theology needed to be declared, official buildings needed to be erected to declare the glory of God and the glory of the empire. It was a compromise that made life easier for Christians but what I see as true Christianity harder to live. The focus went from people to institutions, from discipleship to membership, from way of life to declaration of creed and confession. Personally, I think the church—with the exception of a few revival/renewal movements—became shadow of what it was and was intended it to be.

I imagine some of you reading this are thinking, Yeah. Okay. Is that so bad? What would we do about it? I’m glad I assumed you asked. For the next several weeks, I’ll be writing about this very subject:

  • How do we create innovative ideas for people to grow instead of looking for ways to preserve the institutions we are part of?
  • How do we move from making church members to making disciples?
  • How do we move from defending creeds, declarations, and confessions to embracing a way of life?

Stay tuned. If we open our minds and hearts, I imagine this could be very interesting.

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