(Song lyrics here)
“What does this have to do with youth ministry?” was the universal reply from those gathered. It’s a legitimate question, one that I didn’t adequately answer as a naïve, idealistic rookie. Eight years later, I’ve decided to take another stab at explaining The Rock’s implications for ministry.
It's important to consider how our enmeshed systems (a.k.a “churches”) respond to the everyday prophets in our midst. I’m thinking, in particular, about leaders who receive new insights, inspiration, and education through required training. Most ministry professionals attend conferences unveiling new styles of preaching and teaching, read new studies of shifts in religious culture, and meet with colleague groups to discuss how churches function in a local context.
Ideally, these experiences are more than just intellectual and spiritual exercises. They have the power to renew the entire congregation - and even the community - IF two things happen:
- Leaders effectively communicate what they've learned to a wide range of people in their congregation. This requires multiple opportunities and platforms for sharing in a language that makes sense to their parishioners.
- Congregation members listen to what is shared, trust that the Spirit is opening new possibilities, and respond with enthusiasm and passion for trying something new.
I recently listened to The Rock and considered replacing "church" with "rock". Doing this casts a dark cloud on how most established congregations respond to prophetic leadership. By all measures, mainline congregations are in big trouble. This is not a revelatory statement. Denominations have steadily lost members and money for the last 30 years -- a period of time when the USA has grown by 35% and our gross domestic product (per capita) has increased 67%. Most congregations see fewer than 40% of their members in worship on a weekend. Of the faithful remnant, most are moralistic therapeutic deists with little Confessional or Scriptural understanding. Millennials (people under 30) are increasingly becoming "spiritual but not religious" and not bothering to darken the doors of the big, beautiful buildings their parents and grandparents built.
Some would argue that this signifies the end of denominationalism...but I think it indicates something just as grim about congregationalism. Regardless, I think it's fair to say that what we're doing isn't working like it should. What's worse, a majority of people in churches aren't swayed. Many of the over-50 crowd still see "their people" at church, so not only are they still getting their spiritual needs met by honoring traditions, but their relational circle is unaffected by the loss of young people or the lack of new faces.
Here's where the trouble starts.
If a congregation doesn't embrace prophetic suggestions, the ministry professional has two options.
- Stay the course even if it slowly leads to the demise of the church
- Bear the personal responsibility of being the change agent
Neither are good; the second is worse...and this is where The Rock starts to make sense.
The prophetic man does all he can to convince the people that the rock will eventually roll down the hill and destroy the town. Frustrated by their rejection, he literally throws himself at the problem to save the town. His sacrifice cost him his life, but the solution was only temporary. There will be a day when the rock falls and the town will wish they had listen...but it will be too late.
Too many of our church leaders feel that it is their job to do change instead of inspire change in their congregation. They do so at the cost of their sanity, wellness, and effectiveness...and it rarely produces long-term results. The leader will eventually leave (or die) and the same grim reality will be staring down at the faithful remnant.
What we're doing isn't working.
Will we have the courage / faith to listen to how God is speaking through the prophetic leaders in our midst and do what is necessary to renew our congregations as centers for ministry and mission?