“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.” – Winston Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission
I read the above quotation in the book “Known and Unknown” by Donald Rumsfeld. The part that caught my attention was the reference to not being able to measure or anticipate the tides and hurricanes one might encounter on a strange voyage. Who knows what the future brings?
As the New Year begins I am keenly aware that the church is on a “strange voyage”. In a sense this is nothing new because the church has always been on a strange voyage. The seas are always changing around us. The tides are constantly changing, high to low, low to high and we are always somewhere in the change. The church of today is certainly not the church I came into as a young twenty-one year old minister in training. It’s an altogether different place. Our congregation is not the same church it was when I came here as a young twenty six year old minister with a lovely young wife and two young children in tow. It’s changed numerous times. When I came we averaged in the mid sixties for attendance on Sunday mornings, at one time over the last forty years we reached an average of one hundred and thirty five or forty and over the last ten years we have reached back down to the low hundreds and high ninety’s. We have changed in lots of other ways besides numbers as well.
Culture has changed around us. The neighborhood has changed dramatically. Society at large has changed in huge, major swing kinds of ways. It’s a new world, no doubt about it and it’s going to keep changing and not in ways that will be “church friendly”. The church has moved from the center of town to the far outskirts and I’m afraid it’s going to move even farther out of town. I see the future bringing a time in which churches are much smaller than they are today. I see a future coming in which the voice of the church will be largely irrelevant or ignored altogether in the shaping of society. I see a church that is older in more ways than one. I see a church which will have to be “leaner” and more focused than ever on what it is about and how it goes about its primary mission.
All of this is scary to me be sure. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I look into the future and ponder what the future will be bringing to us in the church. It’s hard enough growing older myself and facing all the changes that the next stage of life has in store for me but to ponder the tsunami ahead of the church and for Christians is even more challenging.
But, having said all this I am not without hope. Our hope is in the Lord, not our own knowledge or skill or cleverness. Our hope is in being faithful to what God calls us to be and in simply doing what we perceive God would have us do in the way of mission. Our hope is in life itself; believing that while whatever will be will be but God will be even more so.
I’m looking forward to the New Year, as challenging as it will be.