The Haxtun-Fleming Herald - What can we reason but from what we know? -Alexander Pope

Fearless Faith

Fixing church by fixing God?


January 18, 2023

Shelves in religious book sections (virtual or otherwise) are overflowing these days with enticing titles on how to fix Protestantism and the state of the overall church. Few arguments remain untried that offer clear solutions to failing memberships, declining seminary enrollments and the diminishing relevance of traditional Christianity, most openly expressed in the lives of younger generations. Like climate change naysayers in recent times, mainstream Christianity can no longer deny the numbers and realities of what it faces. Denial only delays movement toward real solutions and wastes valuable time in the process.

The church’s long-established hierarchies and traditions suggest a permanence attributable to God. It is dangerous to assume, however, that longevity of institutions is divinely graced. While it clearly makes a difference when we adopt best practices of human relationships in administering them, the institutions themselves are largely a result of the hand of humankind, inspired perhaps, but of humankind nonetheless. In our urgent awakenings, we are both anxious and uneasy over what the result might be.

A popular first responder approach to declining growth is to try ever harder to increase the quality and number of churchy events. Pastors and church leaders become quasi event coordinators based on relentless liturgical calendars where expectations can be high, at times unreasonably so. The thinking persists however; if we simply do it bigger and better that in the recent past, somehow, some way, the tide will turn and more numbers will result.

A second approach to stem our anxiety is to focus on a business model that includes a heavy dose of metrics and analytics. This book section is especially lucrative, hopeful of one-size-fits-all solutions we missed that could solve all the conundrums of declining involvement and membership. Numbers are clarifying and helpful as supporting actors or actresses, but they often divert attention from the very heart of religiosity. It is a curious phenomenon when pastoral support groups meet that some pastors use it as a bragging opportunity — membership, baptisms, christenings, weddings, funerals — then use the same numbers as proof they are on the top of their game.

A third approach interprets our way to a position compatible with the goods we are selling, in effect, fixing perceptions of God to conform with what we are already doing. Once we assure others of the absolute correctness of scripture (or other peoples’ wrongness in that regard) the Word can become just as idolized as a golden calf. Used in the wrong hands, it can become weaponized in the same manner that Congress recently and ably demonstrated regarding a host of issues and concerns.

There is no fixing a god who tells us to love one another and to treat each other and our families with dignity and respect. There is no fix for a god who declares all life sacred or reminds us that the poor and downtrodden deserve our best attentions as well. And what can possibly be done with a god who implores us to love neighbors as our self, to care so much for them that we become self-less in our own daily encounters?

How long will it take to fix God? It depends how stubborn we are.


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