An Open Letter to All the Open Letters, Enough, Already!

Just a little preachy…

I am a pastor. I pastor a church that is part of the Evangelical Friends tradition. We are not perfect. We are small. Our average age is higher than ideal. But we are committed to each other.

I have been reading a lot lately about why people are leaving the Church, and conversely about how those leaving the Church are to blame. It is becoming another issue to divide Christ’s followers, and that bugs me. Who says the Church couldn’t re-evaluate and change? Who says it’s ok to walk away rather than stick it out? Both “sides” bring valid points to the table. The trouble I see is that those willing to actually come to the table to talk it out are rare.

Like most issues, we find ourselves defending our position. Those who leave are defending that choice and those who stay are defending the way they do Church. What we end up with are people shouting, using polemics (fighting words, remember?), with everyone convinced they are right and the others are wrong.

It’s not helping.

The mission Jesus gave his followers was “Go and make disciples.” Fighting about who is right and who is wrong doesn’t help us make disciples. It doesn’t help us serve the poor or lift up the broken. It doesn’t help us shine the light of grace into the darkness of despair.

It’s destructive.

The Church is a human and divine construct. It has been (egregiously) wrong in the past, probably is now, and will continue to be wrong about some things until Christ returns. The Church must listen to the voices of the hurt, broken and outcast from among our ranks. Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

The Church is also a family, a body that ought to work together. No one I know has a perfect family or a perfect body, and yet few of us are willing to cut off the parts that need healing–even the parts that fail to yield to therapy both physical and mental. Neither should those who are in the Church but frustrated decide to walk away for good.

It’s a red herring.

To those in the Church: the Church isn’t going to die, and you can’t kill it. Through the two millennia of its existence, the Church has taken on many forms. When one is no longer serving the mission, the Spirit blows in a new direction. What results may look very different. There weren’t always permanent physical locations for worship meetings. There weren’t always cathedrals either. There have not always been paid clergy, music, instruments, bands, stages, altars, and any number of other things that automatically come to mind when someone says “Church.”

The culture is changing. The Church is changing, too. Dynamically, some changes in the Church are accommodating culture and others are challenging it even more. Not all change is bad. Not all change is good, either. But we have to prayerfully consider change before we judge its merits.

To those who have walked away: do you think they will change now that you are gone? By choosing to disengage you have left the fight. Perhaps you voiced your concerns, perhaps they were rejected. Perhaps you have been offended, perhaps those who hurt you have no idea how to make it right. I can’t tell you to go back to the specific group you left behind. What I can say is that whatever your experience, there are bodies of believers who are completely different. There are those who will listen. There are those who will jump on your bandwagon and fight alongside you to bring the change that you are seeking. If you believe in your heart that the institution is broken and you have the answers, please don’t walk away and leave us in this mess.

We need every point of view. We need every gift. We need every passion for the lost, the broken, those hurt by the church, or the world, or sin. We need you.

Because we are family.

Because we are a body.

Because what makes us the Church is our association with each other. I am not the Church, you are not the Church. WE are the Church. And whatever changes come in the culture around us, within our walls, in the way we worship, the only one that matters is the change in our hearts so that we reflect Christ who said, “Father let them be one as you and I are one.”

Paul expresses it well, too.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,  so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1Corinthians 12:14-27

 

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