In a recent blog, Tom Ehrich commented on those who are concerned that Christianity is “in trouble.” He wrote, “In fact, I would argue that Christianity isn't in trouble at all. Churches are in trouble. Denominations are in trouble. Institutions are in trouble. Professional church leaders are in trouble.”
I agree with him. The Christian faith will survive and prosper but some of the churches, denominations, institutions and professionals who attempt to represent the faith will not. A student in one of my seminary classes observed, “What I have learned in this class is that every church or Christian institution starts out as missional but losses it way over time and must be renewed.”
She nailed it. Churches and institutions are in need of continuous renewal. Any organization can evolve new structures and strategies to meet opportunities and challenges without surrendering its core values. A sure sign that a church, institution, or organization needs renewal is when survival becomes more important than mission. Mission trumps survival every time.
My friend Mike Smith once observed that when something new was suggested in a church, people often said, “But Baptists don’t do that!” He pointed out that if one really knew Baptists, he or she would realize that Baptists have done a lot of things in the past in order to further their mission. They called women as pastors, encouraged lay people to become itinerant and bivocational preachers, held worship services at times when people could show up, created mission boards to share the Gospel, and created educational institutions to train ministers. And they did all of this in the face of those who said, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
This is not an argument against institutions but an argument for change in the way that we do things. A church or institution is created to accomplish a mission, but the way to do that must change because the target keeps moving. In order to hit it, we must be on the move as well.