One of the ways that I am involved with the MACUCC (the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ) is by serving on the Clergy Development Council. Our job is basically to make sure that clergy are connected to one another and the conference, have access to resources and are able to discern and develop their skills while serving busy churches. Our council meets bi-monthly with the other councils in the conference to see how our work overlaps.
I missed our last Joint Ministry Council Meeting (which is usually the point at which you get volunteered for something) and a few days after the meeting, a package showed up in the mail with two books in it:
Apparently we’re having a book discussion at our next meeting.
Since Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World was on top of the pile, I read that one first (methodical, I know). The author, John Dorhauer, is the President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ. I don’t know much about him (he was actually elected between the writing and publishing of this book) so I figured this would give me a good opportunity to get to know some of his ecclesial theories.
So I won’t lie … the first couple of chapters of this book were tough to read. Not in the “this is confusing/dry/complicated” kind of way – in the “he’s laying it all out on the table and it’s kind of hard to hear” kind of way. The truth is – the church is changing. Some would say that the church is dying and they aren’t wrong. This isn’t something that might happen in the future, this is something that is happening right now. Membership is down. Finances are tight. Churches are closing or significantly cutting back on staff. Clergy aren’t retiring as young because they simply cannot afford to. These changes have led us to a place where there are more clergy than jobs available, especially full time jobs.
I know all of these things, but there was something about seeing them in print that just raised my anxiety. In fact, I was out with friends a few weeks ago explaining my newly-devised backup plan to become a funeral director if the church died when one of them said, “You really need to stop reading this book!”
But do you know what the cool thing about Christianity is? It never ends with death; it always ends with resurrection. And the literature is no different.
Once you make it through the tough stuff, there is hope in this book. Dorhauer talks about some of the emerging post-modern communities of faith that are popping up. He says that it is possible for churches to survive in the midst of this changing landscape of ministry. He offers reassurance that this story is still being written.
Dorhauer talks about Cameron Trimble’s hypothesis of Church 1.0 (pre-reformation), Church 2.0 (post-reformation) and Church 3.0 (the church that is emerging now). He says that churches that are Church 2.0 don’t have to change – that they can exist the way that they are if they are healthy and thriving. There is no need to change just for the sake of change. He also says that some churches are shifting slightly … Church 2.2, 2.5, 2.8, etc. I would argue that RCC is Church 2.3 right now. We still have our traditional worship (ish) and structure, but we try to look at everything we do and ask the question, “Is this meaningful, relevant and accessible?” and go from there. Sometimes this means changing or adjusting something – sometimes it doesn’t.
Overall, it’s definitely a book that I would recommend to clergy. Just don’t be discouraged by the first couple of chapters that shine light on some of the challenges the church is facing – sit in the discomfort of how those challenges make you feel, put your faith in a God who has brought this church through challenging times in the past …
… and wait for resurrection.