Throughout my career in ministry, I’ve asked the congregations I serve, “What do you want to do?” By this question, I’m actually asking, “What do you feel called to do?” or maybe better phrased, “Who do you feel called to be?” In response, I’ve received a lot of answers that usually boil down to something like “We want to be an intergenerational church that attracts young families with children” or “We want to be a church that welcomes all people.” I’ve learned, unfortunately, that these kinds of answers reveal more about what church people think they should say rather than what they really feel. Most of the time, I’ve seen that it doesn’t really matter what church folks say to answer my questions. In time, their actions will reveal what they want to do or not. Maybe I’ve been asking the wrong question.
I wonder what answer I would get if I asked the question, “What do you NOT want to do?”
What I’ve seen in church life is that an increasingly older membership is usually tired, been there and done that. They’ve served on church boards and committees, taught Bible studies and Sunday School, and they just don’t want to do it anymore. They may not be able to admit it, but their feelings show through their refusal to do any of these things any longer. The problems come, however, when these folks still expect these same old activities to keep going on but no longer wish to lead them. Once upon a time, the next generation would take up the mantle of all these roles and older folks got to “retire” from church leadership. Those days are gone. Younger generations want something different out of church, if they want church at all.
So, I’m wondering why church folk don’t just admit what they don’t want to do any longer? Once that’s out in the open, the next step is to stop doing what you no longer want to do. If that’s already the case by attrition rather than by intention, the step after that is to stop feeling bad about this reality and stop complaining about how stuff no longer happening that you in truth no longer want to do.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some business for churches that has to go on—paying the bills, keeping up the building, etc. But that’s not really the kind of thing I’m talking about. I’m really asking, “What would happen if church was no longer something that felt like a burden, a chore or one more item on your to-do list?” What would happen then?
For those of us who grew up without a choice whether we would go to church or not, we may have never stopped to ask, “Do I really want to do this church thing? If so, why? If not, why not?” When church was a thing good people who wanted to be good citizens of their communities did, one did not ask such questions? Church was and maybe still is like flavorless oatmeal. You swallow it and whether you want to eat it or not is beside the point—“you get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Maybe that’s why our children and grandchildren have opted out of church—they realized they had a choice in the matter and wanted something else.
If church folks are willing to honestly answer the question, “What do you NOT want to do?” then they might be able to honestly answer my original question, “What do you want to do?” No, really, what do you want to do? I don’t mean that in a selfish, egocentric and superficial kind of way that says church is all about you and what you want—that doesn’t sound much like the Gospel to me. I’m talking about the deeper questions of “What makes life worth living to you?” and “What matters most in life?” Let’s talk about doing that kind of stuff instead of giving well-meaning but dishonest answers about what we really don’t want to do anymore.
What would church be like if we better spent the energy we currently spend bemoaning the fact that things aren’t like they used to be?
What if we could feel something other than shame that we aren’t doing “what we ought to do” or “what we should do” when it comes to church?
What would church be like if all of our energy was spent on things we actually want to do that bring joy and meaning to life?
I’m willing to bet church would look and feel different.
Vaccinations are happening, but we still aren’t back to pre-Covid life. It’s not too late to start thinking differently and being different when it comes to church. We can think about all the stuff we have traditionally done at Park Hill Christian Church and let go of the stuff we haven’t wanted to do for a long time. We can come back and make church something we want to be a part of and want to sacrifice for.
I’m pretty sure that Jesus Christ isn’t interested in followers that only complain and feel shame about not doing the things that nobody wants to do anymore.
I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about wanting his followers to experience joy and abundant life.
What in the world might that look like here and now when it comes to church?
The first step is honestly answering the question, “What do you NOT want to do?”
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851