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“Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’ The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went. The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went. Which of the two sons did what the father asked?” They said, “The first.”
Matthew 21:28-32, The Message
“Change is Coming . . .”
by Rev. Rick Pittenger
Traveling to a meeting up in Fargo this past weekend I drove past an old farmhouse on the side of I-29. I was on my way back when I stopped to snatch this photo.
In the photo you see an old rustic farm house surrounded by the result of the spring and summer rains: lush, full of life. Standing stoic, undaunted by its surroundings, it stands. It stands ready to brave the elements as the seasons of life are about to change once again from fall to winter on the Dakota Prairies.
I drove there to listen to a prolific author, Bishop Robert Schnase, a United Methodist Bishop in the Missouri Conference who described how too many churches get stuck in the past and how we become so territorial in our beliefs when the bottom line is that we all want the same things. We want to help the poor, we want people to know that they’re loved, and we all want to be good disciples of the Risen Christ. He went on to describe how the church has been stifled by the people who say “No” to anything new and different and “Yes” to the old standard talking points of the status quo. His premise for a new book is that we need to change our focus to be permission-giving churches rather than committeeing-them-to-do-death churches, which is a hard thing for any people of faith to swallow, especially “Methodists” for we have a method to our madness, or so we proclaim.
He talked about the church or even more broadly, as denominations, we become more concerned about preserving the status quo than we are about making new disciples of Jesus Christ for the world. He gave the example of how we (United Methodists) used to have a Cokesbury Bookstore on every seminary campus. Recently the United Methodist Church realized that people aren’t that committed to buildings anymore. Amazon.com is huge in our world today and it’s because we’ve taken out the middle man of business. We like the control, and if we pay less it’s worth the two-day wait. Unfortunately for local businesses, we’d rather get a better deal online than go down to our local corner store. I’m not encouraging this but explaining why it happens when it does.
He shared the example of how even insurance companies are changing by becoming more streamlined, no longer store fronts on main street but online. Our TVs are filled with their cute ads. Whether it’s All-State, Progressive, Geico, Nationwide, or Farmers. Each of us can think of other examples of how our products are acquired. Even banks are struggling to keep their customers because we want to know where our money is instantly and we can do this and so much more online. College students rarely carry any cash anymore. Once again, the facts are if we can get a better rate and at the same time banks don’t have the overhead of large buildings, which seems to be a win win.
We see it in the entertainment world. Gone are the days where every Saturday night you’d go to a movie downtown. No, people download movies straight to their TV or even cell phones today. DVRs have taken over our evening TV viewing. Now we record our shows and watch them on OUR schedules rather than the networks. Suffice it to say if our churches are going to compete in the world; then the church needs to look at how it does business.
We might point to the fact that in so many ways we say yes in words and no in deeds. Yet the saying is still true that “actions DO speak louder than mere words.” You know that and I know that.
This brings us to the answer to the oft misunderstood question of faith. We’re called to not just sit here but to do something, to act out our faith. That’s why young people come to the Welcome Table to volunteer… and some want to come every week and some do. They want to belong to something bigger than themselves. They want to make a difference in other people’s lives and in so doing they can and will BE THE CHANGE they want to see IN THE WORLD.
We can blame the system, but the reality is that we are a part of the system, and the system won’t change unless we make changes. Like the leaves of fall, they will come whether we’re ready for them or not. Hope to see you in church as we continue to make change that matters.
and grace be yours,