This piece is revised from an Op-Ed published in the October 2015 Church of the Brethren publication The Messenger.


In a recent issue of The Messenger, Brother Galen Hackman wonders if anyone is concerned or even wonders about the decline in numbers in our church. I assure him that he’s not alone. Since graduating from Bethany in 1979 this was an ongoing concern of mine.  It’s important to know that I didn’t grow up Brethren, I went to Bethany because I liked its emphasis on lived service and devotion to Scripture. I also came from a religiously mixed background which included friends who helped build Willow Creek Church, a very large “mega-church.” It was clear to me then that churches, especially churches that went anti-racist during the civil rights struggle, were in trouble. But the world needed the witness to the love of Christ, why not make it big and beautiful like a Willow Creek? After attending Bethany and having fallen in love with Brethren theology I thought that if people just heard the culturally radical message of Jesus and his love, they would flock to him.
                I thought that if we just started some new churches we could find a pattern that would work. I tried. The one in Chicago didn’t get off the ground. The one in Fremont, California succeeded for several years, there is still a homeless shelter we helped start there, but the church didn’t sustain. The one in Denver is still going, but is small. In larger church settings I’ve done some radical small groups which have been like new churches.
                In each of these settings, with the intention of actually living the gospel, for a time we were the church and we carry that with us, wherever we go. But however nice that sounds, it does not create the institutional church that nurtured me, institutions seemingly needed to carry the message from one generation to another. That takes seminaries and buildings and Sunday Schools, doesn’t it?

Why don’t the Brethren grow? Let me name three reasons.

1.            The gospel which is based in Jesus’ command to love is unpopular in an American world based on violence and material accumulation. You really do have to trust the unseen God if you are going to walk among the Boko Haram without worldly defense. You really do have to trust in the unseen God if you will give up your economic advantage to care for the poor. We Brethren keep coming back to Jesus. No matter how much we try to dumb down our faith to make it palatable for the common American, we have to revert to Jesus, the Lord, who said, “love your enemies.”

2.            But then, if living in the way of Christ is our ideal, we ourselves don’t usually live up to that. We Brethren are so split on how to read our Bibles, how to interpret the Word (and our interpretations usually follow our political inclinations). Our Brethren unity is most commonly found in Brethren heritage. Personally, this doesn’t work for me and has worked less and less over the last several generations of Brethren. Who cares if you went to Manchester? But when we get divisive with each other, the easiest solution is to go to that so-called common heritage. Besides, it was this very heritage that brought forth Anna Mow and Dan West and Stan Noffsinger. Amazing things have been done through these folks and their like.
                But the problem for church growth is obvious, a glue which is found in heritage either has no room for new-comers, or takes a concentrated, exhausting effort for a new-comer to become part of the family, or dumbs itself down and becomes less and less distinguishable from the prevailing culture.  

3.            Thirdly, the world is less and less hospitable to our church life. Generally speaking, humans find scape-goats; it’s just part of what we do. For a good number of Americans “religion” has become one of the scape-goats. (Broadly speaking, a scape-goat is one upon whom the psychic garbage of any group is thrown in an attempt to keep the group in balance. For instance, scape-goating includes all racism. Whenever a group stands together laughing at or deriding another so that they can feel good about themselves, they've scape-goated that other.)  Right now the current generation sees the dangerous consequences of fundamentalism— an edge found in every religion (and population!) — and chooses to smear all religion, the good with the bad, with fundamentalism’s evils. So, younger folks, starting with the baby-boomers but growing with intensity with each ensuing generation, choose to disdain “religion.”
                Combine this with a wealthy economy that has a language of individualism in spite of the evident communitarian nature of our life together and people just are not joining meaningful groups. Many even avoid the commitments of marriage. As the larger culture becomes less practiced in how to be together, our churches reflect that.

As I said, I didn’t grow up Brethren, but have spent my adult life with them. I have met many people who have and continue to give their lives to Jesus in some incredible ways, people I would never set myself beside. Their faith in Christ has been and continues to be simply inspirational. I have found that deep change is not popular change and that the health of society is utterly dependent upon those few who hear the call of Christ and live that deep, spiritual change.

                In my own ministry there has been real “success” by my disregarding that previous need to grow the institutional church. Now when people ask me what my church is about I say something like: “we are a church that doesn’t kill people” . . . they swallow hard and then I say . . . “we work to bring the peace of Jesus for everyone, no matter who they are.” There have been folks who simply reject that nonviolent and inclusive Jesus and walk away and that’s ok by me, God will find other paths for them. And then there are some who hear that message and somehow agree. Somebody else can care for many people using culturally attractive incarnational compromises, the incarnated God certainly loves them, too. I want to be with people who want to learn to love their enemies as Christ loves his enemies. I no longer care how many. 


 


Comments

12/18/2015 6:19am

In this practical guide Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier by Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman, we learn not only how to identify our enemies, but more important, how to transform our relationship to them. This teaches us how to have more compassion, patience, and love that will really help us in our development and in nurturing our life.

Reply
02/18/2017 1:01am

My Megasize What honestly boggles my thoughts is the sheer quantity of men that get suckered with the aid of those scams. My Megasize I might think, realistically, that there are probable 400 – 500 guys.

http://t-rexmuscleadvice.com/my-megasize/

Reply
03/01/2017 4:55am

We have all been called for a purpose. We are being called to minister and to be ministered. Based on my own experience, on the other hand, I think that the reason why there is a decline of numbers in some churches is because members seek for a perfect one. They want to be in a perfect church wherein there is no problem and they just have to sit and listen there all the time. I think that we shouldn't focus on the church alone, but I think we should pay attention to the reason why we are there which is the Lord Jesus Christ. Please always remember that there is no perfect church. We are all here to make the church grow stronger and healthier.

Reply
03/18/2017 2:11am

"Christ loves his enemies.' You know in life we will meet people who will really test the patience we have. People who hate us because of their insecurities in life. I once experienced way back in my high school life there are people who actually hate me, I don't know why, but they keep on bullying me, I just let them do those things to me and don't care. It hurts to be handled like that when all you did for them are in good intention. People will simply abuse the things you can do for them, but then I learned that it's not my business already if they act like that, I just let them because I know they will get tired of doing that. I for myself forgive them because that's what the Lord is doing to the people who has those kind of posture.

Reply
02/12/2016 8:25pm

I was extremely pleased to uncover this great site. I wanted to thank you for your time just for this wonderful read!! I definitely savored every little bit of it and I have you book-marked to look at new things in your website.

Reply
02/12/2016 8:25pm

I'm extremely pleased to discover this great site. I want to to thank you for ones time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely savored every bit of it and i also have you saved to fav to see new information on your website.

Reply
02/23/2016 8:04am

Hood article.

Reply
02/24/2016 4:34am

Do you trust to your sense?

Reply

Very good publication! Very interesting opinion!

Reply

A very informative site. The method you have share this details is actually very pleased. Want to see more on this topic below.

Reply
05/24/2016 5:41am

Thanks for publishing this information. I merely want to let you understand that I merely have a look at your website as well as I discover it really interesting as well as insightful.

Reply
06/04/2016 1:06am

It's sad that people give their lives to Jesus...

Reply
07/25/2016 4:10am

As our society growth I want to celebrate this

Reply

How many parishioners do you have now?

Reply

Reply

That's really massive exposure post and I must admire you in this regard.

Reply
09/10/2017 6:11am

Visit Pari island, The blue sea, white sands and coral reefs, diving also.

Reply
09/21/2017 7:51am

Here, you can learn as well as friends. Come join us. Here, you can learn as well as friends. Come join us. We have a smart learning program.

Reply
09/28/2017 1:14am

The Starling birds can be found in Indonesia, among others, Starling Suren or Uren, Black Starling birds, White Starling birds or Jalak Bodas, Starling Nias or Purple Scrambles, Starling Birds or Hong Kong Starling,at least have six types of starling birds. .

Reply
09/30/2017 3:14am

This bird has a kind of variant one of them as in the picture but the best is the type of the color of the fur is gray. In West Java this bird is found to an altitude of 800 m.dpl but now the population is considered extinct with no evidence ever seen again in the swamp it was in because of poaching.

Reply
10/06/2017 9:59am

This is very much a work in progress whenever I find out about one who is more beautiful than any of these I will add her and kick out number ten Thanks for sharing the informative post.

Reply
10/18/2017 8:26am

There are already several lodgings found on this island so you do not have to worry if you want to spend the night on this island. On the island of Sepa you can do various activities such as in other islands such as diving, snorkeling.

Reply
10/24/2017 8:57am

Car charges are billed at time of rental. Certain conditional charges may apply to your rental. When returning the rented vehicle, compare its condition to the state it was in upon rental and protect yourself against false claims and wrongful billing.

Reply
10/30/2017 2:16am

We provide a better solution for your home. Detailed Design of Home Design Services for all types. We have entered the detail, character of the house into a design that reflects how we live today in modern times.

Reply
11/03/2017 7:18am

Brand embraces territorial principles, which means that brand protection applies only in the country where the patent application is filed and granted. To obtain brand protection in the jurisdiction of Indonesia, the inventor must apply for a mark in Indonesia.

Reply
11/04/2017 11:10am

I am very Glad to get this post online...

Reply
11/07/2017 6:21pm

This service is known as the shuttle, which is a shuttle service intended for companies in the area of ​​shuttle employees to and from work, corporate guests or hotels that serve a shuttle from and to the airport.

Reply
11/08/2017 3:04am

In Bali we are known for offering quality services in all major cities as well as airports. From utilities, luxury to economic segments, travelers can rent a car that belongs to all budgets through us.

Reply
11/09/2017 5:49pm

Jose Mourinho believes the international break is currently a key period for some of his injured players to recover quickly. They still have to keep working every day, but now it's in good condition.

Reply
11/11/2017 7:34am

You can specify one color on the wall of the house. Next on the side of the ceiling, give it a touch of other colors. You should choose different colors on each side of the inside of the house. You can also choose a contrasting color that is synonymous with other color variants.

Reply
11/14/2017 6:44pm

The color can be a choice of house paint or furniture in your home if you want a simple but strong and resolute impression on your dwelling. You can apply masculine colors and blend both as exterior and interior paint.

Reply
11/23/2017 4:03am

We use natural and safe technique that is Whitehat seo, standard from Google. Here is a professional seo service that optimizes your Website on page 1 of Google Search Engine.

Reply
11/25/2017 1:21am

When you do not have time to take care of the website, using seo services will help you to promote and keep your site pagerank.

Reply
12/07/2017 9:46pm

Beauti Queen amazing kolkata escorts agency alwyas ready for you at your doorstep. Beauti Queen provide you high profile independent girl in kolkata, escorts service in kolkata, kolkata escorts. If you are looking for the ultimate encounter in Kolkata then I am your sophisticated young Kolkata escorts that provides upscale companionship for making your night becomes true.

Reply
12/09/2017 5:44am

Jiya Roy is a high class luxury and premium independent escorts agency in Gurgaon offering sexy independent escort Girls, models and cheap rate call girls for incalls and outcalls and travel arrangements. Female companions available 24/7 for business events, tour guide and much more.

Reply
12/09/2017 4:27pm

Gurgaonfemales.in offers highly educated model from Gurgaon and best Escorts service in Gurgaon through some of its sizzling Independent escorts in Gurgaon Call Girls who are available to customers 24*7.

Reply
12/11/2017 9:59pm

We are leading Gurgaon based Escort Agency where you can expect to explore only the most beautiful, hot & sexy young females across the city who are 24 hours ready to serve their erotic services for you!

Reply
12/13/2017 7:30am

Renu Das Kolkata Escorts Services has gorgeous females provides Independent Escorts Service in Kolkata call girls at 100% satisfaction with VIP models. Provided Kolkata escorts at our agency are professional in nature and are eager to serve you at your place.

Reply



Leave a Reply