Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Seeking Help, Seeking Truth

Picture this. A “tall steeple” city church, founded at the turn of the 20th century in a fledgling suburb of Los Angeles. During the 1940s and 50s, the congregation grew substantially, and was nationally recognized as one of the larger protestant churches in the nation. It was also known for its rather remarkable influence in Christian circles, raising up pastoral and lay leaders that have literally affected the spiritual complexion of the nation, and to a lesser extent, the world.

Through the 1960s, 1970s and 80s this church continued as a center of “sending ministry”, and continued a program of raising up leaders, pastors, and missionaries.

During the 1990s, and into the early years of this century, this church began to struggle with vision and leadership. It held a somewhat uncomfortable place, in an increasingly gritty urban setting, yet largely populated by more affluent suburban congregants. After a number of years of a successful and emotionally healthy senior pastorate, problems developed in new pastoral leadership that lead to a painful and protracted church split and the resignation of a number of senior staff. During this time, many congregants left, either exhausted from infighting, or seeking other “choices” in a Christian subculture that mirrors the broader American culture of consumerism. The successes of prior years just did not seem to work anymore.

This is not a new story. This is one that is being told over and over, around the US in many mainline denominations. Once vital and healthy congregations grow smaller, older, and
increasingly irrelevant to the communities surrounding them.

And what for the future of this grand church? Continued stasis, or a gradual decline? Will there be a new time, a new era for this church. Can this once proud, dignified, successful place of ministry turn the corner? What transitions are ahead; what are the once “sacred things” that will need to be sacrificed, and what new ideas, that often feel strange and new, should be embraced? Is transformation possible, is there a new future?

The way to new life, to restoration and healing in this church seems fraught with potential pitfalls. In the sometimes complex culture of churches, it is easy to form incorrect perceptions, and then to make leadership decisions that later prove to be disastrous. Wisdom is a commodity in leadership that is much spoken of and sought after, but one that is also in very short supply in the greater church today.

What is the way forward? For a church long recognized for faithful proclamation of the Word, the primary guiding light must be found within the mystery of the Scriptures. The same events, both ordinary and miraculous, of thousands of years ago will provide guidance for the road ahead, even in an age of global travel, urban blight, sexual confusion, and virtual relationships.

Our hope is simply found hidden within the Word. For us all, every last one, even today. A tired woman at a well, confronted by a Savior who strangely knew of her whole life. Friends sitting on a rooftop, lowering their sick friend in front of a Man they hoped could heal him. A prodigal son, long lost, welcomed home to a family party, without recrimination. Frightened men, huddled in a room, almost hiding, confronted by a risen Lord. In these stories and parables are found our future. Renewal, regeneration. Hope. Healing. Renewed vision for the future.

We are here, in Houston, in part to continue to find ways to illumine the search.
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