Now, let me assure you, I am not naive. I know painfully well the things in any typical parish that cry out for change. In most congregations the form of government is broken. People are not interested in governance in the way previous generations were and so a very small number of people make decisions on behalf of the many. In addition, some congregations seem inclined to vote on things that belong to the office of the Pastor while being indecisive about the things rightfully the domain of the lay (like voting on how often to have the Lord's Supper or what liturgy is to be used vs making painful choices to deal with broken buildings, programs, and organizations within the parish). We clearly need to figure out a streamlined way of parish organization that does not leave most of our people out of the loop or with an easy way to escape what is their rightful responsibility. In too many congregations, repeating what we did last year is the default -- no matter how last year turned out.
In many congregations worship is broken -- not the liturgy but worship. Worship is viewed as a program and funded like one. I know of a parish where the organist was put on the time clock -- paid for when she sat on the bench and not paid when she was not on the bench. Organ on the cheap. I know of parishes in which excellence is the last thing on anyone's mind on Sunday morning. It shows. Things are disorderly, disorganized, and undisciplined. We clearly need to remind our people that what happens on Sunday morning is not one of many things but the fount and source of everything that happens in the congregation. Good programs cannot make up for poor worship but doing our best for His glory will bear good fruit in the life of the parish. If only we were as intent upon doing our best for His glory as we were making sure the coffee was on!
In many congregations the imagination is broken. People live in the glory days of the past and dare not hope for anything to come. They see only that which is not like it was and have surrendered themselves to despair. I see so many places where the people come together simply to comfort their sadness rather than to dare to hope for more. There is certainly nothing wrong with comfort -- but as a church body we have become rather melancholy and the only smiles on Sunday morning are for the jokes that probably should not have been told. Where is our joy in the Lord? People notice our lack of joy, our surrender to yesterday, and our failure to hope for tomorrow. They see the palpable fear present in so many of our congregations and it is toxic. We cannot expect anything more unless and until we practice the posture of joy in Christ over sins forgiven, lives born anew in baptism, the voice of God's spoken into the ear through the Gospel, and the body and blood of Christ given to us to eat and drink.
For too many of us fellowship is broken. We think a like on Facebook or a few words tattled through the various social media or smart phone texts is what passes for koinonia. I am not talking about coffee or potlucks but the ways in which we know each other, encourage each other, and hold each other accountable in Christ and to Christ. Fellowship is not about common interest but common life in the one body of Christ the Church. It is marked not by self-interest but service. It is not about what we do but rejoicing in Christ's life among us -- calling us from our closets of fear into the glorious assembly of the saints where we bear one another's burdens as Christ has born ours and where the sharing of the peace is not a howdy moment but the real affection of the forgiven forgiving each other.
I will tell you what is not broken. The Word is not broken. It remains the efficacious Word that accomplishes its purpose every time it is sent forth. The font is not broken. It is still the womb in which the dead are reborn to endless life. For all our hand wringing, preaching is not broken -- people will listen if we have something to say and if that something is Christ's Word and not our own opinions. The altar is not broken. It offers still as Christ has promised His flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all our sin. Prayer is not broken. God still listens for the faithful to empty their hearts to Him but He listens even more for us to pray "Thy will be done." The family may be suffering but it is broken only when we fail to teach our children Jesus. The catechism is not broken though it lies rather dusty and forgotten instead of being read and prayed. The technology we use for every purpose still awaits that moment when we will capitalize on it for the sake of the Gospel -- and I do not mean simply videoing worship and Bible study but using the social media more effectively to witness and catechize more effectively.
It is not about being missional or traditional but it is about being faithful. When we learn that again, the glory days of the past will not seem so enticing to us as we walk through the doors of the church on Sunday morning. Maybe the joy will return to our hearts and our lips as well.