Is the Church Irrelevant?

Recently I had a week of laryngitis which developed late on a Saturday evening. Arriving at church on a Sunday morning with almost no audible voice was interesting to say the least. I have rarely lost my voice completely. Sure, I’ve had my share of colds and sinus infections with sore throats, but this time my voice was gone. And, for me, that is a challenge! My voice is significant in my vocation, family life, and for my conversational personality. By some miracle I was able to squeak through my sermon, one of the best I’ve prepared on the Baptism of Jesus, IMHO expressing a clear understanding of baptism and yet I have to wonder if anyone really heard the word or were folks just distracted by my attempt to speak? I struggled the rest of the day on Sunday as I tried to participate in dialogue only to give up time and time again. I was frustrated by my inability to say what I wanted to say.

Baptism an Act of Stewardship

On Sunday, I tried to proclaim baptism as an act of stewardship, indeed the purest form of Christian stewardship. In baptism we GIVE our whole selves BODY, MIND & SPIRIT in COVENANT or RELATIONSHIP with GOD. When we enter the waters of baptism, we allow all that holds us back from complete commitment to follow Jesus to be washed away as we symbolically die with Christ and are buried with him. In other words, we give up the distractions that claim our attention, such as our addiction to “our stuff.” When we RISE from the waters of baptism, we enter into newness of LIFE in Christ Jesus, indeed abundant and eternal life. We are not made perfect, although baptism is a once-and-done, symbolic act. We are granted the opportunity to give of ourselves freely for the mission and ministry of Christ in the world namely the church and her witness to the good news of Jesus. So, baptism is an act of stewardship, of giving of ourselves for the service and mission of Jesus. Stewardship has been a common theme during worship at Central for the month of January as we invite everyone to make an estimate of your giving for 2013. I was moved by the testimony of one of our most recently baptized youth during the Call to Stewardship on Sunday. Hearing how Central Christian Church has already made a difference in his life, points us to the real purpose of our Christian Stewardship, to transform lives by sharing our gifts of time, abilities and money. Your generosity has made an impact on his life and provided hope for the witness of Central in future generations.

Where Are the Younger People?

Nearly every week recently, I have found an article or news program focusing on the rising number of people who have either left the church or have never been a part of church in their lives. NPR ran a series last week called Losing My Religion. Known as the “nones” or the non-religiously affiliated group, they are mostly younger adults without any upbringing in religion. Some say they represent an entire generation. And, while several factors are always listed for the growth in this particular group and the decline of organized religion as a whole, especially Christianity in the US, a couple factors always get my attention. Researchers say the “nones” often believe the church as an institution has become irrelevant, but many still believe in God. Irrelevancy is the result of the failure of the church to communicate the message of faith in a meaningful way to new generations and cultures of people.  Several service clubs and associations are also seeing declines among younger members. Another factor for many who have left the church has been the unwelcome spirit they encountered in the church, indeed many have been hurt by the church in some way, by some meaningless or negative comment or worse the abusiveness of a member or staff person. Nothing will drive a person away from a church like mean criticism or judgment from another member. The gift of humility allows us to accept and respect another person with their “imperfections” because we understand ourselves as imperfect as well. Healthy relationships in the church and all walks of life begin with humility. And, healthy relationships draw people to the church to belong to something powerful and worthy of their investment of themselves. Just to be clear, humility is not the same as being a victim of another’s abusive behavior.

If the recent surge in articles about the growth of the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd often members of the “nones” tell us anything, it may be that the church has struggled to give a relevant voice to the life affirming, welcoming spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church has too often been silent where voices of solidarity and justice for the oppressed were needed all the while Christianity was represented publicly and politically by those shouting fear and condemnation for all who are cast out socially, the very people Jesus sought to serve. In other words, the church has talked about loving one another but not actually done it very often. Let’s turn that around, shall we?

{From my minister’s column in the Christian Challenger, January 15, 2013. Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Bourbonnais, IL}