We in the USA, live in a ‘post-Christian’ era. This refers to a movement over the last 40 years away from organized Christianity. There are many reasons including a growing distrust of institutions in general and religion in particular. Some of the distrust is deserved i.e. systemic cover up of decades of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church; conservative churches being co-opted by right-wing politics; liberal churches who’ve lost their spiritual mooring.
The results are seen across the nation and readily evident here in New England. According to the Massachusetts Council of Churches on any given Sunday only 25% of our neighbors are attending a house of worship of any type.
Churches for the most part are growing grayer and in time becoming smaller. For millennials approx. 30% nationwide say they identify with ‘no religious tradition’. This % is increasing at a rapid rate.
Some say ‘good riddance’. Not surprisingly, I don’t agree. For all the imperfections of the church, I still love it. I love that it is one of the few places where diverse ages and backgrounds gather. I love that the wisdom of Jesus continues to cut to the heart of what is good, lasting and true.
I see many churches looking in the rear view mirror. They aren’t looking back to Jesus but rather to a fading memory of the way church life was practiced 20 -40 years ago.
Such churches focus on comfort, familiarity and being in control. They become hospices, lovingly overseeing the comfort of the beloved until the doors eventually close.
Last week I attended a reunion of the seminary that nurtured my call to ministry 30 plus years ago, Andover Newton Theological School (ANTS). ANTS recently sold its campus and is affiliating with another seminary. Bottom line the number of students has shrunk as the churches they serve have grown smaller and grayer.
Looking at the religious landscape, one might think that all is lost.
Thankfully, there is a timeless quality to the Christian story. Easter is all about life over death, hope over despair, love over hate, courage over fear.
Let me offer one such story: In Sahuarita, Arizona, 40 miles from the border with Mexico is Church of the Good Shepherd. My friend Randy Mayer serves as the pastor http://www.thegoodshepherducc.org Good Shepherd is a multi-cultural, growing congregation deeply rooted in the story of Jesus.
Good Shepherd on a daily basis sends a small fleet of trucks into the Arizona desert. The trucks drop off water for migrants fleeing poverty and often oppression. On average 300 bodies are found in the southern Arizona desert each year. Their bodies have no identification and are buried nameless.
The people of Good Shepherd know that these travelers have names. They know them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Such a bond transcends government policy and the threat to build even higher walls. Their compassion is rooted in a story Jesus told in Luke 10: 25-37. A seemingly simple story with profound cultural and political implications.
Jesus was never about building an institution. He was all about a movement. A movement of the heart that builds bridges of understanding. A movement that restores us to health and harmony with God.
The antidote to irrelevance for the Christian church is in remembering the story of the One who brought us into being. It was true then. It’s true now.