Stop telling me I’m afraid

“I’m just tired of being told I’m afraid,” my friend and colleague the Rev. Robin Tanner said to me. “And I’m tired of being told about the death of congregations.”
I, too, am tired of being told I’m afraid, or anxious, or desperate. I’m tired of being told that congregations are done, that none of us ministers (or other religious professionals) will have jobs in a few years, that people aren’t interested in being a part of a religious community, certainly not one that does boring old things like worship on Sunday mornings or share a meal together once in a while. Yes, I’ve seen the statistics. I’ve heard from the “experts” (so many experts, and so many of them old white men who like to proclaim the end of church) with their charts and trends. And I’ve seen churches dry up and close, in numbers greater than the ones that are newly opening.
I say, bring it on.¬†I’m not afraid; I have faith. Not in a building or in the way we’ve always done things, no. There are new ways of being and doing church; there are online communities, there are gatherings less formal than our comfortable old congregations, there are people who find religious and spiritual depth in a thousand places that aren’t those buildings we call churches.
But I have other news for you, friends: congregations aren’t going away. That big building on the corner (some of them, anyway) will still be there, with its highly-trained, (sort of) well-compensated, full-time minister who preaches almost every Sunday and all that goes along with it.
Because I’ve seen that it doesn’t have to be the way those trends describe. I’ve seen the “anecdotal evidence” that so often gets criticized. I’ve seen the ones and tens and hundreds trickle into our little old-fashioned communities seeking something, and sometimes they find it.
(And anyway, like so many of them, my entire denomination is an anecdote. If you stuck every adult and child we have together, we would barely fill up three good-sized college football stadiums. Most of the old mainlines, though larger than that, have also become niche religions. We don’t have to reverse the entire culture (at least not right away!) to be successful.)
And so, I’m not afraid.
I’m not afraid even as I try to provide for a growing family (we welcomed our second child last month!), I’m not afraid as we drag around a whole bunch of student loans that we’re making little progress towards paying off. If I was afraid, I wouldn’t be doing ministry, that’s for sure: This is not for the faint of heart. If I was afraid, I would go get a job in finance or some such, stack up all the money I could, buy a mansion in a gated community and run away from this world, and I’m not doing that.
And even if I was tempted, those people coming in the door each Sunday would keep me right here. We need these communities, with their buildings that are falling apart, with their financial structures so often inefficient, with ministers who have been trained in all the wrong things, who are aching to devote their entire lives to these communities.
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