Will we recover? This is THE QUESTION every congregation is asking right now. Once the danger from the pandemic is over, will things return to normal? I certainly hope not. Consider what we will recover if we returned to normal? There are some things I wish I had not learned. There are other aspects of my life as a Pastor I do not wish to return to. And I don’t want what other people wish to recover. Our experiences gives us the means to move forward.
Pastors know the claim older lay people make about their church. “You would never recognize the place.” It is a claim that yearns for the “good old days” of when they were younger and things were simpler. Wise people recognize that people wishing for such days do not remember or never experienced the harsher side of those times. When I began ministry the Silent Generation – the one before the Baby-Boomers – was still in charge. They were often nostalgic for “the fifties.” But they did not mean the decade of the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement or the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction. Neither did they mean the Korean War. They were wishing for less conflict and less questioning of what life should be like. The Silent Generation wanted the post-war economic boom. They wanted a 1970’s television show called “Happy Days.”
Gen-X is middle-aged now. Do we ask ourselves what we want back? Are we now those who believe there have been too many changes? As the middle-child of the generation struggle, do we want our anonymity back? Of course not. Why aren’t we the ones welcoming the changes? Or did we buy into the Boomer’s attitude of “I got mine!” Except of course how we believe we got nothing. Are we wanting to recover our waiting for someone to give us our chance?
Will They Return?
An evangelical colleague asked me if people were now coming back to our church. “We aren’t getting anyone back,” he admitted. Another colleague asked the harder question. “What does it say about those who decided to go elsewhere?” Honestly, I have never wanted people who left a congregation to return. Pastors know we can waste a lot of effort on getting people back for a brief time only to have them leave again. Nothing, for them, changed. Why would they want to return? I am one who was usually glad the leavers found somewhere else to be. If they were a problem for me, let them be a problem for someone else. If they are happier where they’ve gone, I considered it good news.
Do we want to recover people who could not stay? Often we want to “keep the family together.” Or we wish to maintain our personal connections. Our primary concern is not whether we are following the way of Jesus with someone else. Are we willing to stop following Jesus for the sake of family or friends? Loss and conflict with those closest to us is inevitable. We all understand the problems associated with texts like Matthew 10:34-39. But those saying recognize this truth. What is our desire for difficult people to return but wishful thinking?
Recover or Resurrection?
I enjoy fellowship that is restored. Everyone I know values resolved conflicts. But it is not enough to have these graces without a true Resurrection. If we do not have new life, then the problems remain. A recent story from science fiction writer John Scalzi “The Dispatcher” envisions a world where people can be killed and come back to life. A person dying on the operating table is “dispatched” to appear at home. The person is somehow “reset” into the condition they were in a few hours before they were killed. They may still need the surgery.
The question arises if anyone can be murdered without returning? The solution is to starve a person to death. If that person returns, they are reset into the point-of-no-return condition that will kill them again. The other victims in Scalzi’s story recover. They are not resurrected in the sense the church describes as the New Being.
If the churches die, then they die. I certainly do not wish for them to recover if that means only delaying the inevitable. However, if the churches are transformed into new institutions or entities, that would be a confirmation of the Christian story. It would indeed be Resurrection and renewal greater than the Wesleyan movement or even the Reformation.
People without any other hope or desire want such a Resurrection to take place. Other – and many more – people are interested in recovering the former status quo. I wonder if the WCA people planning the Global Methodist Church realize their vision is as obsolete as what they are leaving?
A new church will be formed if the Faith survives. We will recognize it as specifically Christian. But it won’t be the same. We will not recognize the place.