by Ken Howard
It’s been over two years since I left my last church to startup FaithX and, I swear, hardly a week goes by that some clergy colleague doesn’t ask me about how I’m enjoying retirement. The exchange usually goes something like this:
Colleague: So how are you enjoying retirement?
Ken: I’m not.
Colleague: Not enjoying retirement?
Ken: Not retired.[at this point I explain how what I’m doing is a different different kind of ministry]
It’s not just the fact that people (often the same ones) keep getting wrong that irks me. What truly troubles me is the unexamined assumptions behind the sometimes spoken but usually unspoken exchange that follows:
Colleague: What? Wait! You left your congregation, right?
Colleague: And you didn’t accept a call to a new congregation, right?
Colleague: Then how can say you’re not retired?
I think the disconnect here is that my clergy fiends and I sit on different sides of a paradigm shift in the life of the church, and they have not yet let go of the dying paradigm, so they have a hard time embracing – or perhaps even being aware of – the emerging one.
They are stuck in paradigm that says, “if it’s not church-based and institutionally blessed, it isn’t real ministry.”
There was a time when it was possible to pretend that only institutional ministry was valid. When institutional Christianity held an established, central, and dominant place in society and most people self-identified as Christian, it was possible just through its ministry to its members that the Church touched the vast majority of the people it its world.
But we no longer live in such a time.
Now we live in a time in which the Church’s ministry to its members reaches an ever-dwindling portion of the people in its world. The great migration of this age is not into institutional Christianity but out of it, an exodus which grows larger with each new generation, with the fastest growing religious affiliation being “none of the above.”
Those of us with eyes to see know that we are watching a simultaneous death and resurrection. We can see the dis-integration of institutional Christianity that will be complete in our life times. And we trust that God will grow a new movement from the mulch that this dis-integration leaves behind.
We do not know the form this new movement will take. But we do know this: if we are to join with God in ministering to the people of the world, we will have to leave behind the illusion of permanence and safety that staying within the walls of our churches provides, and join with God in engaging the people of the world where they are. Getting to know them so we can understand them and understanding them so we can love them like Christ loves us.
And maybe that’s where God was calling us to go and to do all along. It’s no accident that in the original Greek, the name we translate as “church” is “ekklesia,” which literally means, “called out.” Maybe God is calling us to lose our religion so we can join God in the world.
It also just so happens to be why I left my officially religious job as a church-planting parish priest to start FaithX: to help faith leaders, congregations, and judicatories do the same.
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