Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this essay by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page.
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During the last few days I’ve had a question on my mind that I just can’t seem to shake, and here it is. Suppose I was given this choice. On one hand, I could keep the church, and I’m talking about the whole church just not just this congregation, I could keep the church exactly the way it is, in other words exactly the way I like it. And it would stay that way for the rest of my life, but one year after my death, it would cease to exist. On the other hand, I could choose to be a part of a church that’s constantly changing so that it can keep communicating the gospel to folks who have tastes and preferences very different from my own. In fact, this church will do some stuff that I really don’t like, even things I dislike. In other words, my church would be constantly changing as the world around it changes, and it would be doing that for the rest of my life, but I can be absolutely confident that it will continue long after I haven’t. Now, that’s my choice. And the question, in which direct should I decide to go?
Of course, I think that may be pretty close to choice we have, but not just us; all churches are facing the same situation. I mean, tastes in music and style are constantly changing; we all know that. Therefore, a lot of what we feel natural doing is anything but natural out in the real world. And if that weren’t challenging enough, we can no longer appeal to those for whom a traditional style with a traditional structure and a traditional feel brings back gentle memories, because it seems as though fewer and fewer people, particularly those under the age of thirty-five, have any history in the church at all. For example, we can’t even say to them, “Come here and sing the hymns you remember from your childhood” simply because they have no childhood memories of hymns at all. And even if the words to those songs are good, for them the melody seems strange and uncomfortable. Therefore, to reach them, we might need to be more than just friendly when they pass through our doors and sit through our services. We’re going to have to take the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, out to them and to do it in a form that appeals to them, not necessarily to us. And we’re going to need to be sensitive to their preferences and style and language and to the ways they choose to communicate and to the issues that they consider important.
But of course that’s not the only option; we can certainly make the decision to change, but maybe “change” is really the wrong word. We can make the decision to broaden, you know, to broaden our approach to ministry and to broaden our view of worship and even to broaden our vision of what it means to be the church. We can choose to do this. And if we do, well, I wish I could say our efforts are guaranteed to succeed, but I can’t. You see, we may make all kinds of changes, and our message may still fall like seeds on the sidewalk. In other words, we can’t be absolutely sure of the results. But still, there’s something of which we can be fairly certain. If we choose to try and stop the clock and live in a more comfortable past that resonates with us but fewer and fewer people on the other side of the stained glass, then I’m not at all sure the old girl has twenty or thirty years of life left.
And so there it is, a question I wish I don’t want to ask and a choice I wish I didn’t have to make. Will we decide to keep things just the way they are for the rest of our lives, knowing that we won’t be leaving much to the future? Or, without sacrificing our integrity or faith just some of our preferences, will we make the changes we might need to make so that the gospel might take root in modern hearts? You see, whether we want to or not, that just may be the decision we’re going to have to make. And how we decide, well, it won’t jeopardize the Body of Christ, that’s in God’s hands, not ours. But it may have a major impact on this Christian community in Weirton, West Virginia.