Defy The Trend
in Change Leadership - Faith Formation

Making a New Vessel from the Wreckage or Why I Need to Reconnect with My Tribe More Often

I find myself in need of a confession: I feel hopeless about the church sometimes.

Those nagging, fatalistic thoughts invade my psyche often after yet another phone call in which well-intentioned church folks replay the blow-by-blow of their latest church conflict. These fights are rarely about the big things — theological conviction, mission priorities, justice issues; most often church folks get out their gloves and step into the ring for relatively insignificant things — music styles, carpeting choices or whether the pastor/staff person spends enough time in his/her office.

The mythic sinking Titanic is a lot like the sinking church.

Petty squabbles dishearten me. They make me feel like no amount of care, compassion or political finesse could ever focus a congregation on a gospel-inspired mission. On those discontented, discouraged days, I just don’t think anyone has the fortitude to steer the Titanic of a ship that is the Mainline Church back toward shore. In those moments, I yearn to hop into our life boats and watch it sink while the band plays its haunting funeral dirge.

This is why, a few times a year, I must reconnect with my tribe — the artists, pastors, lay leaders, activists, writers, thinkers and theologians who care enough about the church to work every day, despite disappointment and failure, to re-imagine church in news ways. About a week ago, one such tribe gathered for the National Church Leadership Institute hosted by The Center for Progressive Renewal. On the surface, this looks like another church conference in an over-airconditioned hotel meeting rooms. But, all you have to do is look and listen for a little while and the buzz perks you up like a good cup of coffee.

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Candles surrounding the NCLI logo during Taize worship.

We were challenged and inspired by the words of theologian and writer Brian McLaren who called us to join a movement that refashions the beauty and meaning at the heart of the progressive, Mainline Church into something relevant and hope filled for today. This movement engages interfaith dialogue, cares deeply about the equality of all people, wants to preserve of the planet, and seeks the liberation of all who are oppressed. “Mainline Protestantism is in a great place for a movement,” he said during one of the sessions. “Because the status quo is not sustainable.”

The un-sustainability of church structures is truly a gift. When you can no longer do church in the old ways, we are forced to begin anew gracefully or, well, not so gracefully. We can either choose to sink with the ship; jump onto one of the lifeboats and float around aimlessly; OR begin to gather up the useful and beautiful pieces of wreckage and begin to make a new vessel.

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Rendering of the renewed church created at NCLI. Photo & image by Nicole Havelka.

Conversations (like these) among my tribe, are what keep me from floating adrift. They anchor my boat tossed on stormy seas. I’m not alone. I’m not lost. My fellow travelers can fashion some pretty faithful things out of the wreckage. They have a lifeboat, a paddle and bucket and they are more than willing to share.

Let’s build something new and exciting together, shall we? Join me (and so many others) in the movement for church change.

Looking for a Tribe? Join my online course (starting Sept. 23) and coaching groups focused on reforming stale models of youth ministry and Sunday School by emphasizing lifelong faith formation and intergenerational relationships.

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