In his book, “Church Marketing 101: Preparing Your Church for Greater Growth”, Richard Reising points out that “Change is a requirement of growth. No change means no growth. One of the biggest challenges I see in churches is that they commonly get stuck in the generation in which they felt the greatest spiritual impact…Let me challenge you, do not have a sense of self that clings to the past. God is doing a new thing!”
I have seen and experienced what Reising describes here. Many declining and closing churches are still living in their “good old days”. Therefore, these churches could not keep and attract younger generations; most of their members are either the Builders or the Boomers (for some Chinese churches, the majority of their members are the “young” Boomer and the “old” Busters). Even though some of them called themselves missional, their programs are for their own generations and members only.
“24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:24-26)
In his book, “The Bible Tells Me So…Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It”, Peter Enns wrote:
“Speaking for Christians, capturing land and holding on to it by violence is not a gospel way of living. Christians today, therefore, have an obligation not to ‘follow the Bible’ here, not allow the ancient tribal description of God in the Old Testament to be the last word. These ancient writers had an adequate understanding of God for them in their time, but not for all time – and if we take that to heart, we will actually be in a better position to respect these ancient voices and see what they have to say rather than whitewashing the details and making up ‘explanation’ to ease our stress. And for Christians, the gospel has always been the lens through which Israel’s stories are read – which means, for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word. The story of God’s people has moved on, and so must we”.
Yes, I do feel the stress as I have had many conversations with people about the violence, the genocide, and many other topics we feel unacceptable. In this book, Peter has offered many insights to help us to approach the Bible in a different perspective.
In her book, “Small Bites: Mindfulness For Everyday Use”, Annabelle Zinser wrote:
“The Buddha said that a person who refuses to recognize his or her own suffering is like a mule walking around with a heavy load, unable to get rid of it…If I am able to ask myself, ‘It is possible for me to encounter this anger, despair, or depression with compassion and embrace it with great tenderness?’ then I can guide my mind in a new direction and create the space necessary for transforming the difficult feeling. I find that using the form of a question is important. Asking a question isn’t meant to create additional stress or to suggest that I shouldn’t feel anger or fear; instead it should create openness and help me become aware that mindfulness, patience, and compassion will give me the freedom not to surrender to negative feelings. This kind of internal questioning helps me to stop repeating the story that brought up these feelings in the first place…I started to recognize the old story that had led to the painful feeling, and I was able to change the story…Becoming aware of difficult feelings in a nonjudgmental way allows you to acknowledge them when they arise without being overwhelmed by them. If you can can embrace them, just as a mother embraces her crying child, then the fear will disappear”.
In my life, I have had so many “old stories” (experiences) caused me to have negative feelings: feeling abandoned, feeling betrayed, feeling guilty, feeling powerless, feeling hurt, feeling….because of someone’s words, expression and behavior. As I started to commit myself to a regular practice of recognizing my own suffering with my Christian faith of the love of the Lord, I feel that those negative feelings have been gradually losing their strength.
It does not matter which spiritual tradition(s) we are following, stillness is the spiritual state and condition for spiritual discernment – listening to the voice of God, seeing the true nature of all things, seeing our true self, and …
In her book, “how to lead when you don’t know where you’re going: leading in a liminal season”, Susan Beaumont points out that:
“Inner stillness is associated with an environment of silence and solitude. In silence, we create a quiet place to give our full attention to God. In solitude, we withdraw from the busyness of our lives and the company of others. We pull back and create space to give God access to our souls. Jesus repeatedly used silence and solitude to deepen his capacity for stillness. Silence and solitude make way for stillness…”
Our soul is yearning for us to prepare an environment of silence and solitude in our daily life so that we can connect with God, the true reality, and our true Self.
In her book, “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season”, Susan Beaumont discusses the field of our attention based on Otto Scharmer’s teaching. Beaumont points out that “The field of our attention is formed by learned patterns for the past. We pay attention to the reality in front of us through habitual judgments. Scharmer uses the term ‘downloading’ to describe our habitual mode of interpreting the present reality in light of past experience. When we download, our learning is limited to reconfirming what we already know to be true…..Nothing new permeates our bubble of interpretation. We only hear what we have already determined to be true…When downloading, we are unaware of all that informs our situation. We operate with blind spots. Our blind spots are formed by the assumptions we make without realizing that we are assuming..We convince ourselves that our reflection on our experience is the same as the experience itself, that it captures the fullness of all that may have happened…”
I believe what Beaumont is discussing here is applicable to not only our individual personal life but also our group/community/church lives. As a priest/pastor, I see that this is one of the main causes to churches’ declining, dying, and closing.