I spent three days last week in Atlanta, GA, attending the 2012 UCC Conference Staff Gathering for Church Development, organized by The Center for Progressive Renewal. The Center was birthed by the Southeast Conference, and nurtured by the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministries of the UCC. In just a few short years, the Center is well on the way to becoming the lead ecumenical organization for church planting and renewal. In addition to its signature New Church Leadership Institute (NCLI), they offer traveling workshops, webinars, online courses (including Boundary Training and UCC History and Polity!), professional coaching, and social media intensives. The staff members are experienced, pastoral, intelligent, articulate, confident but humble, and enthusiastic! But their name, CPR, sells them short . . .
Remember the first time someone explained to you the difference between resuscitation and resurrection? The difference between Lazarus and Jesus? Jesus raised Lazarus. But he brought him back to life on this side of the grave. The time would come again when the boney hands of death would grab Lazarus again. There was no reprieve the next time. But resurrection is a different matter. Resurrection is life after death. Now, I’m not delving into the debate about physical resurrection verses spiritual. That will have to wait for another day. What I’m talking about is “post-death.”
When I listen to the folks from the Center for Progressive Renewal, their focus isn’t on resuscitation, bringing back the glory days, freshening up the gospel, or shaking off the dusty boredom of Sunday morning. Even though their acronym “CPR” cutely brings to mind flashing red lights and heart paddles, their passion is post-church, post-denomination, post-religion, post-death. They have their own words, but what I hear them asking is, “if we believe in the greater good, if we believe in the interconnectedness of all creation, if we believe in the sacred, the holy, the mystery of life, how are we called to live together?” I think it’s the right question. If the church, as we’ve know it, is fading away, what does the future look like? What does it mean to be faithful?
Next week’s cover for Newsweek magazine (April 9), features a picture of Jesus that pundits are describing as “hipster Jesus.” Dressed in casual, contemporary clothes, standing in the middle of New York City, Jesus gazes at the world. The lead article by Andrew Sullivan declares, “Forget the Church – Follow Jesus.” Sounds a little post-church to me!
Are we brave enough to ask the question, what next? Or will we keep insisting that if we only work harder, smarter – if we only manage things a little better, we’ll renew the church? We know better than that. The old world is passing away, the new world is rapidly arriving. Are we brave enough to give up church, and follow Jesus On the Way?
I am Yours in Christ, walter john