In the last few months, I’ve found myself in the midst of a lot of change, and I don’t know how I feel about it.
I graduated from seminary in May, and after working as a pastor for Passport camps, I started a new job as minister of youth and outreach at Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Ga.
I haven’t been a “minister” long, but more than once I have thought to myself, “I’m not in seminary anymore.” At times, I feel as if I’ve been dropped in a foreign land.
I know how to be a student. I’m pretty good at writing papers and taking tests. What am I supposed to do in this new context?
Quite honestly, I feel a little disoriented, but I’m not the only one. Most of the people in our churches also feel disoriented.
Many of our churches have gotten pretty good at doing things the way they always have. Every now and then, we may do something different, but for the most part, we have come to expect certain things when we go to church.
But something is changing.
Most of us can feel it, but we have a hard time putting our finger on it. All we know is that our young people are leaving the church and not coming back, and many of the young people who decide to stay, for whatever reason, aren’t satisfied with the ways that church is being done.
In many ways, it’s as if we are facing an identity crisis, and it’s hard to know what to do.
In “Christianity After Religion,” Diana Butler Bass argues persuasively that we are in the middle of a new spiritual awakening. Whether we acknowledge it, the truth is: Religion is changing in America.
The reasons for such a shift are many, but according to Bass, most Christian churches have responded to this profound shift in one of two ways.
Some have become dogmatic and given their lives to the preservation of the old order; others, who she terms “romantic evangelicals,” have embraced new ideas and welcomed change with open arms.
While both of these groups agree that our context is changing in America, they disagree about how we should respond to our context.
The rift between these two groups is so profound that at times it can feel as if there is no common ground, as if one must defend their convictions to the death.
However, if Bass is right and we are in the middle of a new spiritual awakening, then we must create a space where uncertainty is OK, where we learn to live deeper into our Christian tradition – a tradition that equates change with transformation.
The theme of change is found throughout the biblical text, but in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks directly to our human desire to remain in the known and seek out the comfortable when he says: “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17).
Is it possible that our ways of being the church in the world are no longer effective? Is it possible that the body of Christ is being called to something new?
If so, then we must take some time to stop and exercise discernment in order that we may join with God in doing a new thing.
It is natural for us to seek out comfort and stability, to want to go back to the familiar, but it is exciting to think about all that God could do in us and through us if we are willing to welcome change.
God is in the process of making all things new. Let’s not thwart God’s work by trying to put new wine in old wineskins.
Let’s be a church that seeks to shape culture rather than retreat from it, a church that celebrates diversity and recognizes the redeeming work of God in the world.
Let’s be a church that exercises humility and is willing to say, “Maybe God is up to something new.”
“Maybe change is a gift from God.”
In the midst of change, God grows, stretches and creates; it is in this uncomfortable space that God resides. We have no reason to fear change; God is with us, no matter what is going on around us.
If you find yourself in the midst of a lot of change and you don’t know how you feel about it, you’re not the only one.
Christopher Robertson is minister of youth and outreach at Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Ga.