Thursday, November 6, 7 p.m.
@ The Rusty Bucket, 42874 Woodward Ave, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304
I stood in an auditorium filled with 7,000 youth workers and wept as I watched the church I love crumble.
I don’t know how I had been so unaware. I’m sure there was plenty of talk about institutional decline when I was in seminary, but I somehow tuned it out. I don’t tend to be an alarmist, so I may have written off the dire predictions as one walks with embarrassment past curbside prophets shouting about Armageddon.
However it happened, I arrived in ministry with the self-assurance that I would be a cradle-to-grave Presbyterian. And not just any sort of Presbyterian. I had been to churches attempting to incorporate “contemporary” worship or launch programs that would make them more “relevant.” I disdained them. For me, being Presbyterian represented everything that was right in the world – law and order and decency, intellectual elitism, social justice, tradition. All of this was housed in the institution of the church, established for now and for always. Worship styles and programs might come and go, but the Presbyterian Church would be forever.
And then, after less than a year in ministry, a woman named Phyllis Tickle explained how that wasn’t going to work out. As I followed up on the devastating news she delivered to the youth conference in 2007, others confirmed her analysis of the situation.
The basic premise is this: for a variety of reasons, the Church has been preparing for a massive rummage sale over the last 60 years or so. What this amounts to is that the predominant form of the faith will give way to something new. Much like the Church’s other great historical rummage sales (the Great Schism of 1054, the Reformation of the 1500s), this undertaking is driven by social unrest, new technology, and (we hope and pray) by the Holy Spirit.
In the last 7 years, I’ve read numerous books, attended conferences, and followed blogs about what is happening to the institutional church I love. I have learned to see the chipping mortar of this institution not as a signal of doom but as an opportunity for repair.
What I learned from Phyllis Tickle at that youth conference is that the church as I know it will lose (is losing, has lost) its privileged place. It will be unseated. It will be pushed to the margins.
What I have learned since that time is that it might be the best thing to ever happen to the church.
If you’re up for some background reading (and watching), here you are:
Phyllis Tickle talking about the great church rummage sale:
A couple of interesting blogs from NEXT Church, an organization of Presbyterian pastors discerning and discussing the future of the church:
Author and Historian Diana Butler Bass addresses the future of faith: