People often ask me how I keep going when the mainline church is in such a state of decline. My answer is not one commonly shared, I keep “keeping on” not because it will lead to a transformation of the church but because when all is said and done I want to know my life made a difference. As I assess what matters to me I can’t help but know that when I serve as Jesus did, as Jesus commanded, as Jesus’ followers lived out in the early church, I am whole. The best of me is when I live into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This does not excuse me or the church of being disinterested in effectiveness. Good stewardship, being productive and efficient, is good for anyone or any movement. Why would I waste what God has given me? I try to use up my time, talents and treasure in a way that would make John Wesley, Jesus, my own mother, proud. I make lists, check them twice or more, and squeeze as much as I can out of what I have to give. If there is a way to be more effective in ministry I want to know about it. If there is a better way to communicate and connect with people, I want to know about it.
But ultimately I do not fret about how all of this plays itself out. If the church survives that would be great. But if it does not, in its present form, it will be reborn in another way and find expression in more creative methods than my limited brain can imagine. I know this because Jesus’ message and ministry cannot be stopped. And I know this because the church, like any institution, is flawed. The single most difficult thing for me as a minister to deal with is the baggage of the Christian Church, the terrible things we as a church did in Jesus’ name. There is no excuse for that, other than human sin, and thus I make no excuses.
But within this flawed institution there are plenty of opportunities to make a difference, to move the cause of justice and new life forward. I want to be part of that! When I die I want to know my life meant something, that it made some difference, not just in some small act of kindness, but in a more systematic way, that I spoke for justice and reminded people that God was on the side of the oppressed, that Creation suffered in climate change, that joy and celebration was how we were meant to be in community, not conformity and hierarchy.
I serve the church, not because I think the church is the only way or because I think the church is holy and pure, but because this flawed instrument is redeemed by the Holy Spirit to do amazing things, big and small. I want to be part of that. Wherever I serve, Bethany, Brunswick Street, or wherever I go next, I want to be a servant of Jesus, to live out this calling to welcome, to heal and to find new life. I am not a pious person, I make countless mistakes, but my focus is less on what is wrong and more on what can be done in the situation we are in now. I am a possibility person, I look at what the assets are and how we can use who we are, what we have and where we are going to make a difference. Jesus expects nothing less.