It doesn’t take long on the internet to find a negative view of church. The criticism runs the gamut from atheists to ministers…it seems as easy as ever to be critical of church. We have far more people casting a negative view of the church than we do proactive and intentional people who are casting a positive and healthy view and vision for the future of the church. Maybe that’s because it is easier to criticize than it is to do the hard work…week in and week out…of dealing with the difficulties of ministry and real people.

It is vitally important that we give a platform to hear more from people who are doing the later.

That doesn’t mean criticism is unimportant or unwarranted. It is important that we listen to the criticism and learn whatever we can from it, especially when we hear the same things over and over again. But it is even more important that we assess our ecclesiology to make sure we are adequately holding an ecclesiology that is both biblical and relevant. It is important that we listen to those who have found a positive path for the church in a culture that doesn’t have a positive view of church. We need to be telling and hearing stories of how God is still at work among us so that we can learn to rely on God to lead us through difficult times. This heightened since of negativity doesn’t negate the fact that God is still at work through the church…we need to do a better job of highlighting and celebrating those moments.

In this issue of Wineskins our intention is to paint a better vision of church. The reason church gets a bad wrap isn’t because the Bible isn’t relevant or that God isn’t present and working among His people but because real people are involved and when real people are involved life gets messy…If we are willing to dive into the messiness of real life, just as Jesus was willing, and bring peace and wholeness and love and life and light into those dark situations we will find a life and vitality in the church that may be lacking.

Last, it feels at times like we have lost our way, even our identity…Sixty years ago we knew our distinctives and it seemed the world cared. Churches of Christ were on the fast track and one of the fastest growing Christian groups in America. As the world changed to care less and less about how different groups of Christians were distinctive or more right than the rest we have struggled to find our footing. What we valued no longer seemed to matter. Thriving ministry quickly turned to nostalgia and questioning. What is interesting is the path our Movement took is a very well known path that congregations take as outlined in Robert Dale’s book “To Dream Again” where he outlines the life-cycle of congregations. His diagram shows how churches begin with a dream and goals and as they attain the dream through their maturation of their ministries that if the church isn’t able to re-dream and re-vision a new future for the congregation that the congregation will slide into nostalgia, questioning and death. Here is his chart,

ToDreamAgainDaleChart

Where are we on this chart? Where is your congregation on this chart and what needs to be done to keep moving up and not take the turn downward? The bigger question is not how many churches are in these stages but how do you find the healthy path forward depending on what stage you are in? It is vitally important that we are able to dream again. It is important that we know in our hearts that our better days are not behind us but before us. It is important that we listen to those who have been in established churches and made the transition through the nostalgia, through the questioning and even through the polarization, dropout and near death to thrive once more with new dreams goals and ministries that honor and glorify God. It is also important that we learn from our church planters and the lessons and experiences they have had in starting new ministries.

So let’s listen in and see what we can learn, what dreams we can capture and what trails we can blaze and/or discover from others.