Janet Marshall’s description at our recent Diocese of BC Clergy Conference of the current context in which we are attempting to do church, merits serious consideration for anyone attempting to do ministry in the real world.

Marshall described a major shift that has taken place in the last 50 years in how people view and relate to institutions. She described

Different ways generations respond to institutions. The expressions of church we are working with now were shaped by the generation of people who came home from the war and created order out of chaos – this is the 80 and 90 year olds of our congregations they created the institutions we now know. Before the war if you wanted to play ball you went to the ball park and played.

Next generation 60-75 year-olds – their job is to hold together those organizations that were created after the war. And it is nearly killing them. But they are doing everything in their power to keep it going. They are part of the group called “the dones.” They’re not angry at the church they’re just tired of keeping things turning over.

It is tempting to try to shore up the old vision of institutional allegiance. There are so many jobs to get done. No church can operate without strong volunteer participation.

Who will set the table for Sunday morning? arrange the flowers? read the Scriptures? lead the music? collect the offering? put on the coffee? count and bank the offering? clean, organize, prepare, set up, take down…. The list of tasks necessary to keep even a relatively small group of people functioning effectively as an identifiable community of faith, is daunting.

What do you do when no one has the energy any longer to put on the coffee after service Sunday morning?

It is tempting to resort to guilt, pressure, manipulation, and shame (GPMS). But, fortunately the days when GPMS was an effective motivational strategy are over. Communities that resort to GPMS discover that eventually people just walk away. The lifelong institutional loyalty that is an essential component for effective GPMS is gone. No one hangs around for long in a culture that is shaped by GPMS.

If Marshall is right and church members are “just tired of keeping things turning over,” how are things going to keep “turning over”? Who has the energy to keep the machinery running?

Obviously there are some functions that are essential for the survival of any community, but as the world changes, we are going to need to let go of some of the things we once thought were essential to the life of our community. When there is not energy to fulfill a certain task or project, it is time to have the courage to ask honestly, “Is this something we really need to be doing? Is this an essential part of what it means for us to be church?” If the answer is no, it is time to throw the unnecessary undertaking overboard before it sinks our ship.

We must to look at what things are essential to our life as a community of faith. Would the church cease to exist if there was no coffee following the service Sunday morning? Would our worship be invalid if there were no flowers in the sanctuary?

Letting go of non-essentials creates space for new possibilities. The energy liberated by letting go of unnecessary functions can be redirected into creative new endeavours. New ways of being church will open up, but only when we let go of the energy-hogs that have been dragging us down in unnecessary activity.

 

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