Friday, May 1, 2015

Time . . . and the Church

An endless stream of commentary and counsel on the current state of the mainline church crosses my desk and computer screen on a daily basis.  As the pastor of a small church which has been in a freefall decline for the past two decades, I am, naturally, interested in what everyone has to say. 
How to reverse attendance and giving numbers?  What happened to all the young (under 50!) people? How do we become a "missional" church?  Should we add a contemporary service?  Should we add a contemplative service?  Will renting space to another enterprise resolve our financial issues?  Would a different pastor pull them in? 
Yesterday, I enjoyed a long breakfast with a friend who is a few years (five) older than I am, who has lived without one of her children for a few years (seven, for a total of fourteen) longer than I have, and who is ahead of me in the delight category (a new grandchild!) by five months.  If you had to summarize our wide-ranging conversation, you might say that the theme had to do with finding ways to live out this period of life (which I sometimes refer to as the third third) as fully and deeply and even joyously as possible, given what we were handed in the second third.
This morning as I lay in bed for a few minutes after waking up, the word that came to mind was:
A question applicable to both the congregation and the sixty-something person. 
To what do we want to give our limited, precious time?   What is of such great value as to make it worth hours, weeks, months, even years, of our time?
It seems clear that numbers of people who might have been participants in the life of a mainline congregation a generation, definitely two generations ago, no longer believe that what the church has to offer is worthy of their time. 
I wonder: Do we, we who are pastors and leaders and participants in the life of the church, do we ourselves understand what it is that the church has to offer?    Do we understand what it is that we are doing there?  Do we have any inkling of  how to communicate why we are drawn there?
What claim does the church have to our time?


  1. Robin, for whatever hill o' beans it's worth:
    My understanding of time and church changed DRAMATICALLY in the last two years.
    Before the little biscuit was born, I heard people talk about the (un)involvement of young parents, and dismissing it as irrelevant when there were nursery services available.
    I was one of the most involved young(ish) church people I knew for well over a decade.
    Now, I'm there one or two Sundays a month, on a good month, and the biscuit and husband are very rarely with me.
    Also: some nuclear families have great support, and others have almost none. For those without support, a nursery doesn't change the way that two people are juggling as much as they can, with almost no breathing room.
    Church has very much become an obligation, a nuisance, something that makes my life measurably harder.
    This is a season, I know, and a short one-- but especially in a place where the church consists of familIES, whole and independent unto themselves, rather than becoming one large body, one family, seeing one another and genuinely opening arms to all, rather than just broadmindedly accepting anyone in the next pew-- wrangling church sucks an awful lot of time and energy.

    Oof. Apologies for the diatribe.

  2. You make great points, Di. I really had the opposite experience when my kids were small - I loved the way we all participated in church together, loved being part of a community much bigger than the five of us, and accepted a wide variety of rolls in leadership. We found real community there with a group of young families who, like us, had no extended family around, and became one another's family. Nearly thirty years later, we still are -- although our connections to that particular congregation are no longer uniform across our group. But I did get burned out at church and eventually reached the point where I felt that the busy-ness and committee and programs were no longer a venue to God - at a time which coincided with my middle-schoolers' refusal to stay involved. More on that later, as I think/write through what church might mean beyond obligation and nuisance. Thanks so much for commenting!