Dissing the Saints

A colleague sent me an article by Tom Ehrich, dated January 5, which offers an interesting take on the changes churches will have to make to avoid fading into obscurity.  Erhrich, who I gather is an Episcopalian pastor, writes about the decline of so-called “Mainline” churches on his website MultiChannelChurch.  He offers lots of helpful suggestions, but he strikes me as a bit too enamored of the marketplace.

Ehrich begins by lamenting the demise of Eastman Kodak, using this company as metaphor for all institutions, especially the church, that fail to adjust to fast-changing realities.   He then offers these two lists:

For clergy

  1. Clergy will need to become strong, assertive entrepreneurs, even in polities that believe in constraining clergy power.
  2. Institutions built on Sunday worship will need to channel resources away from Sunday worship.
  3. Constituents will need to embrace “harvest giving.”
  4. Leaders will take a fresh look at facilities – a long and strategic view, not a “survivor” view.

 For churches:

  1.  Constituents who have seen church as a place to get their needs met will need to become servants, self-sacrificial and radically inclusive
  2. Laity will need to let beloved institutions change radically, and allow leadership to pass to risk-takers, upstarts, new and younger constituents
  3.  Judicatory heads trained to manage institutional processes will need to become advocates for a movement.
  4. Seminaries will need to stop preparing ordinands for a church that no longer exists.
  5. People will need to let their faith be more than convenient religion, a comforting engagement with affirming fellowships, and instead wade boldly into disorderly gatherings marked by diversity and neediness.

The article is helpful in many ways, but apart from the word “servants,” I note a decided lack of theological content.

I agree with much of what Erhrich says, but disagree strongly that clergy should become “entrepreneurs” while members should become “servants.”  His implies that people of faith in mainline churches possess only “convenient religion.  This strikes me as downright insulting and a form of bearing false witness against his neighbors.

The people I “serve” (and I use that word on purpose) at First Presbyterian Church are not focused entirely on “comforting engagement with affirming fellowships.”  The are true servants of the living God who are engaged in God’s mission.

While I appreciate constructive criticism, I don’t appreciate condescension.  The Apostle’s advice to the church in Rome seems appropriate  “ . . . do not claim to be wiser than you are (Rom. 12:14).

Surely the church can change without “dissing” the saints who are currently in the pews.

About Brant Copeland

I was born in Brownsville, Texas, grew up in San Antonio and in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
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