Dr. Richard C. Halverson (1916-1995), chaplain to the U.S. Senate, is credited with this statement made in 1984 in a speech before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church:
“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture, and, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.”
This statement may be a bit harsh but, in many ways, our churches tend to function today more as businesses than as spiritual organisms. For example, when the stewardship committee of a church sends out a letter encouraging congregants to invite people to church in order to “meet our budget,” the church has lost its focus. When the building committee becomes more interested in maintaining the physical facility than serving the community, priorities are skewed. When the pastor is seen as the CEO rather than the spiritual shepherd of the flock, we are missing the point.
Have we lost sight of the truth that we are part of a spiritual movement? The first step required for churches to transform toward increased faithfulness and relevance is to get in touch with and nurture the Spirit of God in their midst.
The church has survived and prospered over twenty centuries not just through the creativity and talents of committed women and men, but because the Spirit of God has continued to break through and provide courage, insight, and wisdom for God’s people.
Any effort toward being a missionally faithful church in our time begins with remembering who we are as a people of God. What we do in this time and place is important not only for us and our children but for the Reign of God.
The first step must always be prayer, openness to the Spirit’s leading, and listening the voice of God through God’s people. Only then will we be prepared to undertake the task of church transformation.