In Appreciation for Bishop William Willimon.
UPDATE: C’mon people. I am not insulting mainline churches. If I say that, in GENERAL, mainlines are more liberal than many evangelicals are comfortable with, that isn’t discounting all the many, many good things I’ve always praised. If I’m offending you with this proposal, then forget about it and we just won’t bother each other.
Mainline churches….we’re having a moment here.
Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ…do you know what I mean? We’re having a moment, and it’s slipping right by.
We’re having a moment when thousands of evangelicals are getting a bellyful of the shallow, traditionless, grown up youth group religion that’s taken over their pastor’s head and is eating up their churches.
It’s a moment when people are asking if they want to hear praise bands when they are 70…or if they will even be allowed in the building when they are 70. It’s a moment when the avalanche of contemporary worship choruses has turned into one long indistinquishable commercial buzz. It’s a moment when K-Love is determining what we sing in church and that’s not a good thing.
It’s a moment when some people are wondering if their children will ever know the hymns they knew or will ever actually hold a Bible in their hand at church again. It’s a moment when a lot of people are pretty certain if they hear the words “new,” “purpose” or “seeker” one more time, they may appear on the evening news for an episode of “church rage.”
It’s a moment when significant numbers of people have heard the same ten sermon series so many times they could fill in for the pastor on short notice. It’s a moment when many people would actually like to see a section of the congregation who are over 50 and not trying to look under 30.
It’s a moment that- believe it or not- some people actually want to go to something that looks like church as they remember it, see a recognizable pastor, hear a recognizable sermon, participate in the Lord’s Supper, experience some reverence and decorum, and leave feeling that, in some ways, it WAS a lot like their mom and dad’s church. It’s a moment when reinventing everything may not be as sweet an idea as we were told it was.
It’s a moment when the baby boomer domination of evangelicalism is showing signs of cracking. Some younger people actually want to hear theology. They aren’t judging everything by how seekers evaluate it or what Rick Warren would say about it.
Yes, my mainline friends, we’re having a moment here. You can see it all around the edges of evangelicalism. It’s there and it’s real. It isn’t easy or automatic, but it’s there. And it is sad to realize that at the very time so many are looking for what you have, you’re mostly squandering the moment entirely.
Your churches could be taking in thousands of evangelicals. That’s right. Those recognizably “churchy” churches of yours, with the Christian year, the Biblically rich liturgy, the choir robes, the still-occasionally used hymnals and the multi-generational, slightly blended worship services, could be taking in thousands of evangelicals.
Of course, you’d have to want them. You’d have to, in many ways, meet them halfway or more. You’d need to talk to them as younger evangelicals, not dangerous fundamentalists. You’d have to reconsider how important it is to you to keep homosexual grievances constantly on the front burner. You’d have to start acting like Biblical morality meant something. You’d have to stop acting as if being mainline is a game where you wait to see how fast the membership dies off.
It’s a moment when you need to speak the language of people who want to hear the Bible; a moment when preachers need to preach mature, Biblical evangelical messages.
Those younger evangelicals are ready for your appreciation of tradition, your more balanced theological method, your commitment to multi-generational churches and your more substantial appreciation of justice issues.
But they aren’t ready for the things that have emptied so many of your churches. They will never come if things remain the same. Much needs to change and should change.
You need to communicate, and you need to go back to your roots. It’s frustratingly ironic to know that when many of us are longing for a church that has the things we cannot find in evangelicalism, you have so many of those very things every Sunday. But what you don’t have is the willingness to come back to the center of evangelicalism where people who love the Bible and take it seriously can find a home with you.
You’ve made it clear that you want those on the left. And evangelicals have made it clear that they are not going to accommodate those who want tradition. We’re having a moment here, if you can stop and see it, who knows what could happen? Will your own churches divide in order to meet evangelicals on the road? Or will the moment go by, a “might have been,” that never was to be?
The moment will come and it will go. Right now, the moment is upon all of us.