Patterns of faith
November 3, 2021
As people of faith, we like to imagine that there is a template we can engage that represents our best hope and understanding of this divine dance to which we have graciously been invited. Austere organizational structures are embraced so that we can build off the work of our forebears, adding to our present day knowledge as well as contributing to the religious foundations of tomorrow.
Some do well with a strict formulaic structure that includes counting numbers as the mandate of the Great Commission is carried out. How many attendees at weddings, baptisms, christenings, or funerals apply to that goal? What of the weekly head count during worship and similar events? When numbers favor us, we assume that church is thriving due to God’s beneficence and our evangelistic efforts, if not individual holiness. When things go south, we point to our collective weaknesses declaring that God has stepped aside from us because of our waywardness, but then we expect God to step back in and save our bacon one more time.
Established patterns of worshipping, educating, and evangelizing are so embedded in many settings that it becomes near impossible for churches to look beyond themselves. It’s not entirely bad, though, as some of us indeed benefit from clear expectations as we go about the work of the church. It gets messy, though, when we step outside the lines of rigid belief because it is now up to us to figure things out to a greater extent. Our template remains our guide, even if it is decades old and mired deep in another era.
How then do we get unstuck? We begin by looking at the stencils and patterns we most often use and inquire whether they remain pertinent in all the ways we believe them to be. If there is doubt at any level, then discernment in is order. There is no getting fully back to normal after the pandemic but there is fertile ground, freshly turned, that is begging to be amended, fertilized, and nurtured in new ways. And what of the template itself? We benefit when its patterns challenge us in new ways. Is it set in stone, or are we still able to look at it with fresh eyes and richer contrast than we have before?
The patterns we offer must be clear and delineated to address a new frontier that is upon us. Bricks and mortar institutions will survive in some form, though not necessarily as traditional places of worship. The most critical lasting work of the church will occur far beyond the walls of its buildings, something that might be disquieting to many.
As we very slowly reimagine a future beyond the pandemic, there exists opportunities to define and deliberate patterns of faith that will survive and flourish in the future. It will be up to us to pass on what we have learned in this challenging process. There is no magic formula or guaranteed outcome to this all. Some institutions will survive famously. Others will celebrate their histories before closing. Still others will be invigorated, energized, and determined to ask the audacious question, “Where is God in all this?” We’re not entirely sure how to respond other than to persevere in faith and delight in one another’s company along the way.