Letters to a Future Church: Take Risks, Be Honest, Stop Equivocating

(Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals, edited by Chris Lewis, InterVarsity Press, 176 pages.)

This book collects letters from 25 Christian leaders in response to the question, “If you had one thing to say to the church, what would it be?” Respondents include Kester Brewin, Walter Brueggemann, Peter Rollins, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Ron Sider, Rachel Held Evans, and Shane Claiborne — as well as previously published “bonus letters” from Will Willimon, Gardner Taylor, and Eugene Peterson.

Despite these big names, my favorite letter was from Janell Anema with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Her letter is woven throughout the book as Interludes. Here’s an excerpt from the final part:

Church, you had me at hello, and I love you, but I want more for us now. I want more life. I want more mercy. I want rivers of justice that flow from the throne whose waters quench the thirst of trees whose leaves offer healing to the nations. I want revelation. I want heaven here. I want the kingdom come.

Amen.

In response to these 25 letters, Patheos has invited me and many other bloggers to write our own letter to the Church. Whether or not you read this book, you are also invited to write your own letter and submit it to  the Letter-Writing Contest InterVarsity Press is hosting for this book. The top 3 letter-writers (chosen by IVP) will receive gift packages and also be published at Patheos.

My letter would read as follows:

Dear Church,

It’s time to grow up. It’s time to take risks, be honest, and stop equivocating.

You often hire pastors who spend large amounts of time and money to attend seminary and immerse themselves in advanced theological education. Challenge them to teach you the hard lessons such as the dark side of church history, the messy story of how the Bible was formed, and how difficult the way of Jesus really is.

And, pastors, take the risk of trusting that the members of your congregations want to be treated like adults at church. If you can handle the truth that you leaned at seminary, trust that they can too. Partner with them in deconstructing the myths of childhood faith and in the vital work of reconstructing an adult faith worthy of the twenty-first century. The members of your congregation are highly competent citizens in their day jobs; trust that they are fully capable of bringing that same level of intelligence, tenacity, and seriousness to church.

Take risks. Be honest. Stop Equivocating.

Here at the beginning of Christianity’s third millennium, we, our neighbors, the world, and God deserve nothing less.

May peace, joy, courage, and hope be yours this day and in the days to come,

Carl

This book review is a sponsored post that is part of the Roundtable at the Patheos Book Club. Visit the Book Club website for more free resources related to this book.

The Rev. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. candidate at San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).

About Carl Gregg
  • John Boyd

    Carl – your letter hits the mark dead on. Treating your congregation as adults is a sign of respect and undermines the tendencies toward co-dependency that so often mark the relationships between clergy and congregation. In my experience, honestly and transparently teaching people what we learn in seminary works and empowers people to deal with the challenges of their daily experience. Too often our people are left vulnerable to the wild claims of the religious right as to what God wants precisely because well trained pastors are afraid to teach what they know. Good for you!

    • Carl Gregg

      Thanks, John. Great to catch up with you in person in Austin!

  • Pat Pope

    Many have taken those risks and have been severely punished for it. When people dangle your livelihood over your head or make it clear that they won’t tolerate certain teaching, it can be difficult, if not impossible to dial back on the challenging teaching.

    • Carl Gregg

      There are indeed many toxic congregations, but my college “Psychology of Religion” professor challenged us to see pastors who stay in situations like the one you described as what therapists call a negative “enabling” relationship that is unhealthy for all concerned.

  • Tim Zebo

    How’s this for irony – one of the contest rules is, “Letters that include criticism of specific churches or denominations will be ineligible.” That means I can’t write a letter criticizing this guy’s “preaching”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyBVoxt4pQ0 , or this guy’s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTiBv99MYDk . So much for “taking risks”!

    • Carl Gregg

      You could write something more generally criticizing those who do “x” or “y.” But, yes, there are times for “naming names.”

      • Tim Zebo

        And those “times for naming names” are?

        • Carl Gregg

          Right now is a fine time for naming names. If I were running the contests, I’d be glad for you to do some name naming :)


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