By the time you read this, I won’t be where I am as I’m typing it: Monday morning on an airplane heading from Charlotte to LaGuardia, en route to Minneapolis. Not exactly a straight line, is it? The straight line became null and void when my original flight on Sunday after church was canceled due to “maintenance.” Not sure what that means, but if it’s a plane that isn’t functioning properly, I’m okay with the delay. They couldn’t get me on another flight that day, so I got to sleep in my own bed an extra night. Apparently it’s snowing in New York and that may complicate my connecting flight. Oh well. I’ll get there when I get there.
I’m heading to Minneapolis to attend the National NEXT Church Conference. You’ve heard me talk about this before. NEXT Church is less an organization and more a conversation – among pastors and laypeople in the Presbyterian Church (USA) – about the changing landscape of the church in society and the future of the denomination. It grew out of shared concerns from congregations all over the country dealing with declining membership, shrinking worship attendance and decreased financial giving. Rather than view these from an alarmist perspective, NEXT Church views them as birth pangs of God’s new and mighty work in the church. Something is changing, has changed – and the church needs to embrace change as well.
That can be a tough thing, can’t it? In general churches don’t like change. And there’s the question of what the church is changing to. Which is also why I love NEXT Church, because it’s not about stylistic change as much as substantive change. People aren’t drawn to church today for a show. They go to be in relationship and to be part of something bigger than themselves. They go for substance, not style. Change has to go deeper than the surface – which, incidentally, is a harder kind of change.
Not only that, but we move forward unsure of what the journey will look like. Kind of like this crazy flight I’m on right now. I’m trusting the airline will get me to Minneapolis eventually. I’m hoping there won’t be any glitches in making my connecting flight. A straight line sure would be nice, but that’s not going to happen. I’m going forward in faith – as we all are!
Being the church today is a lot like that. Our destination hasn’t changed. We’re still building God’s kingdom on earth, bringing people into the transformative body of Christ, loving and serving all.
How we do that, though, is what we get to figure out together. The old ways aren’t cutting it anymore. We get to work with each other and with God to do a new thing in the church. Kind of unsettling? Sure, a little. Exciting and invigorating? You bet!
I can’t wait to share my experience at the NEXT Church Conference with you. In the meantime, let me encourage you to check out their website at www.nextchurch.net. Become part of the conversation, which crosses all ideological/theological lines in our denomination (another reason I love it) and includes church professionals and laypeople alike.
But don’t stop there – become part of helping discern what is “next” for Trinity, too! Check out one of the books from our Trinity Book Journey, offer to serve on a church committee, invite family and friends to join us on a Sunday morning to experience the wonderful spirit that is present here, and bless what we already do while being open to new initiatives and ministries. Most of all, pray for our church – not that things will stay the same, but that things will change. Because they already are!
It continues to be an absolute joy to serve with you in ministry!
Your pastor and friend,