Isn't rebirth the point?

July 25, 2014

Reblogged from: That's Life

Did you see the story on the Internet recently about dying churches making incredible comebacks? The story was about a church in Franklin, Tenn., which had been struggling for years.

In early June, as the story goes, the prayers of that little church were answered. More than 300 people gathered for worship. Say again, more than 300 people.

The pews were gone. Traditional hymns were gone. A new sign outside the church told of a new name, the Conduit Church.

Hillview, when it decided extensive action was due, was down to less than a dozen members, the story says. It decided then to merge with Conduit, a four-year-old nondenominational church. The Hillview members were at the end of their ropes, so God gave them a hand up. The church did what is being done all over the country. Small churches, and by that I mean small in numbers not necessarily small in the size of buildings, are finding ways to reinvent themselves.

I do not think for a second that was easy for Hillview to do. Some would look at the 300 and conclude, wow, of course the Hillview members would do that. But what about the history of the church and of the congregation's parents and grandparents who had done so much for the church, which essentially lost its name but not its building.

But it might become a necessary part of our fabric.

The funny thing is it has always been. We just forgot.

There's a story in scripture that Jesus tells about the need to make new wineskins. Back then, as he told this story, a new batch of wine was sometimes poured into animal skins. The fermentation process involved a release of gasses that stretched and weakened the skin. That's why you could only use it one time.

But the batch would turn into exquisite wine. The only thing was that the next batch needed an entirely new skin.

When Jesus applied the story to "religion," it wasn't exactly what they wanted to hear. People wanted to cling to what they knew, what had worked before, what they had grown up with, and so forth. But Jesus said they should let go of all that.

The modern re-telling of the scriptures, The Message, records Jesus' words in Mark this way: No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don't put your wine in cracked bottles."

Some of us to this minute still are trying to use the old wineskins over and over and over. Some of us have cut up the finest clothes we have to patch things that are holy, not Holy. Buildings are brick and mortar and such.

People. They are the important things here. We, in many cases, refuse to adapt, to change, to look at what might work as opposed to what isn't. In many, many of our churches today, the wine is pouring out of those broken vessels. Is it not? I defy many to tell me new strategies aren't called for. Isn't it still about seeking out and saving the lost one as opposed to the found 99? Isn't it still about the son who returns to a father who runs toward him? Isn't it.

Isn't it about going out and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Did I miss the recall on our commission, our calling?

This doesn't make things more comfortable, for anyone. This whole process of introducing newness, when we're not exactly sure what newness will look like is a painful process. It truly is. Again, I'm so old I wonder whether I am appropriate for that process. But what I've learned is it is not about age, not really. It's about desire. Plain old hunking desire.

We are all sewn together with strands of grace. All of us. From the youngest who can tell us about speeds of Internet and new platforms and talk that sounds almost dirty it's so strange to us old folks, to those very old folks who remember different days and rightfully wish they were still here equally but still long to see people come to Christ so they sign up to do whatever the Spirit leads them to do.

I admire the courage of those who truly are stepping out in faith. I long to be one of those. I am giving all I have for all I can to do all I must. New? Bring it on.

Here's the deal. Churches are dying. To deny that is folly. But death can mean something more than living to survive. It really can. Death can mean, at its finest, resurrection.

Look, we Christians at our core believe in a dream. A man came telling us his dream, his vision. He talked about the Kingdom of God. But other men killed him because their dreams, their wineskins, were old and familiar and they didn't want to pony up to the bar of new ones.

Death. Dead as a carp. Dead as a door knob. Dead as a, well, dead person. Dead. No breath, no hope of tomorrow, no life. Dead.

Three days later, the dream, the vision, the man came roaring out of the tomb. That's what we believe. And I have to tell you, if you're gonna introduce new wineskins to the old wine game, if you're going to patch up your cloches, heck, resurrection, rebirth, renewal is the way to go.

I believe churches can be reborn. But to be reborn, it takes a courageous stand. It takes allowing death to come.

When it does, Christ takes over. I believe a recommitment to mission, a recommitment to the overlooked value of hospitality, but most of all a recommitment, a rebirth, of what it means to love our neighbor and not our church building is absolutely needed.

The name on the sign on the building is insignificant in the long run. The love in the hearts of the people who happened to be in that building for a little while is vital.

Dead doesn't have to be the end. Don't we all, as Christians, believe that?

As someone I know once said, "Ain't that the point?"