April 7, 2020

Pastoral Nuggets: Recovering the Essence of Who We Are (Part 1)

It is no secret that the United Methodist Church/Conference recently made the decision to close many of its smaller churches.

And it’s also no secret that this decision has caused much consternation among its rank and file members – many who are my friends.

To say that these members have a strong emotional attachment to the buildings and properties associated with these churches, and to each other as members, would be quite an understatement.

To be totally honest with you, I can’t help but wonder if the United Methodists haven’t simply accelerated something that most every Christian denomination in the United States is experiencing.

According to an article by The National Catholic Reporter, the United Methodist Church has 32,000 congregations across the country. By the year 2030, one-third of those congregations are expected to close. That’s 10,667 congregations.

Now, unless we Southern Baptists should begin to feel smug regarding our Methodists friends, let me hurriedly tell you that we aren’t fairing much better!

In an article/blog on SBC Voices, William Thornton states that there are about 46,000 SBC churches, but by the year 2030, 11,500 of those churches will disappear.

On October 17, 2019, the Per Research Center reported the following in an article regarding the decline of Christianity in America, “The religious landscape of the United States continues to change at a rapid clip.

In Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade.

Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.” Sobering, isn’t it?

Last night at supper, I had a conversation with a good pastor friend regarding the Spiritual crisis in America today, specifically the closing of the churches I mentioned.

Evidently, I went to bed with that on my mind. Seldom do I remember my dreams. Last night was the exception. I dreamed that a good friend and I were standing on the cusp of the abyss. I was peering into a huge, dark, foreboding, eerie, mass of nothingness. Somehow, I knew that “the essence of who I am” had somehow fallen into that nothingness.

I had laid down of the edge of that nothingness and was desperately reaching into it trying to grab hold and pull myself to safety. However, despite my best efforts, it was all to no avail.

I remember looking up at my friend, weeping uncontrollably, and saying, “I cannot recapture the essence of who I am.” I had lost myself in that abyss of nothingness. I was visibly shaken when I awoke.

As a Christian, as an American, as a member of the Christian church in America, and as a member of society, my greatest fear is that we are fleshing out my dream. We have either lost, or are losing, the essence of who we are, and cannot recover it.

The closing of the churches I have mentioned, is not the problem in America; it’s only a symptom!

The problem is that we have lost focus on the core values and principles upon which these churches were founded.

Sadly, we are sacrificing our churches on the “Altar of Relevance!” We’re more interested in relevance than Biblical values and truth.

These lyrics are flooding my mind as I type, “I heard an old, old story, how a Savior came from glory. How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me. …”

Column space constrains me. So, check back for my next column as I continue this thought.

Brother Aaron 

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