Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Church: Finding a Way to make it Work.

It is quite exciting to see what God is doing. I see the Spirit of God disturbing comfortable assumptions, and stirring fresh passions. It is a beautiful thing to witness. When the soul is confronted with a bold truth, an overpowering love, or a gentle disarming revelation – hearts melt and a new understanding of God unfolds. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

I have also been thrilled to see God bring fresh and new ideas to our leaders. With our increasingly secular society challenging us to think in new ways, hearing of creative approaches is encouraging. But it can also be disconcerting.

Church programs are no longer the centre of shared activity. In fact religious services seem to conflict with other values enshrined by secularity. Family life – although remarkably busy - is given a high value in secular society. It is expected that parents display this value by transporting their children across cities, neighbourhoods, and even regions. From sporting events to extracurricular clubs and interests, family schedules are full and uncompromising.

This has posed a challenge to traditional church programming. Attendance is irregular. Participation is optional. Impact is inconsistent. “When there is a tournament during the weekend, half of my congregation is at the hockey rink on Sunday morning,” lamented a pastor at one of our Area Church Assemblies. What is a church leader to do?

This frantic activity creates a theological discomfort. What can be used to measure commitment when regular attendance is no longer applicable? Accommodating stressed schedules can seem like compromise. Is it possible for the church to encourage a counter cultural approach without appearing to disregard the value of family?

With these thoughts rolling about in my mind, I recently had a surprise lunch with some Mennonite Church Canada pastors. We were describing the changes in culture and the impact this has on ministry. The common experience of scheduling difficulties surfaced.

“All the churches used to share a common midweek evening set aside for church activities. Hockey practices and games always respected this evening. But no longer,” explained the youth pastor, “now every night is busy.”

A fresh approach was needed. Realizing most of the junior youth played on the same team, a new idea emerged. The pastor was having difficulty scheduling a parents meeting to describe upcoming events and initiatives.

“So we all went to the arena to watch the game,” explained the pastor. “During the first intermission when the youth were in the dressing room, I called the parents together in the stands and explained the upcoming events and initiatives.” Then with a smile continued; “When the second period started we cheered the team together.” I started to smile as well. “At the second intermission I stood back up and asked if there were any questions,” the story concluded.

I was intrigued by this unique approach. “What was the reaction of the parents,” I asked?

“They were thrilled that the church was willing to come meet them where they were at,” explained the pastor.