For Christian leaders, especially those committed to established churches and denominations, it might be hard to be thankful these days. There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the media about the reality of the “nones and the dones.” There’re a lot of “old standards,” whether they be events, sermons or songs, that just don’t work these days. When budgets shrink and churches shut their doors, it’s not easy to keep your chin up.
For some Christians, the Church is what makes it hard to be thankful. Whether it is poor management of resources, overly identifying with politics or just an out-of-date approach, many people are too bored or burned to take the Church seriously.
As followers of Jesus, we hold on to a sort of eternal optimism. We serve a God who renews all things. We have a lot of reasons to be thankful. Here are five.
Thankful for the Saints who have come Before
It can be easy for those with a pioneering mindset to get frustrated with institutions or organizations. This “old guard” often seems to get in the way of the new work we feel called to do.
While this might occasionally be true, we also need to remember that we can do what we do because of the saints who came before. It’s not just that we connected to them in a scriptural “great cloud of witnesses” way. It’s not just because of the old ladies that taught me when I was a kid to memorize Psalm 23 and sing “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Some of the best opportunities that we have to explore new forms of church are completely reliant on partnering with established churches and traditional denominations. These organizations are full of women and men that can be sent out to pioneer new things. They have resources, not just financially or physically, but decades of interacting with God. This is wisdom we need.
At my church we had a dozen babies born in one year! What we wouldn’t give for a few grandmas to help out. Partnering with established churches can bring a lot more than a few babysitters. One approach Fresh Expressions helps with is a mixed economy church, where the established community supports a more experimental missional edge.
At times, I’ve spent a lot of energy frustrated with established churches. Fresh Expressions makes me thankful for those who have come before and gives me hope for what we could do together.
Thankful for the leftovers of the last harvest
It seems like the church in the US over the last few decades has spent a lot of energy deconstructing. With many of our congregations, organizations and practices steeped in Christendom, that’s probably a really good thing.
The problem with deconstruction is that it can easily drift into cynicism and, eventually, destruction. This is a problem, because it dismisses the missional progress made by previous generations of “harvesters,” not to mention, the lessons we needed to learn from them.
For instance, today, it’s increasingly popular to be dismissive of highly produced “worship experiences” and embrace some traditional liturgies. Dismissing the approach of another church is not missional, it’s judgmental. Many of these churches themselves were often responding to stuffy old liturgies! They’ve also learned the hard way about many things that work, or don’t, in creating God-centered experiences for various people groups.
As an aspiring missional practitioner, I’m thankful for the attractional church, the Jesus Movement, and the altar-call Great Awakening churches that have preceded me in America. Each was a response to the needs of their day. I may not agree with everything they did. However, I use a projector instead of a hymnal, encourage creativity and spirituality and occasionally call people to repentance. I’m thankful for these tools from previous missional harvests.
Thankful to address old problems
We all get something wrong. None of us will fully represent the gospel, free of our own personal or cultural baggage. Eventually, our hidden agendas become public problems.
The church in the United States has a lot of baggage. Much of it comes from the fact that many of our congregations, denominations and institutions were built for a world where Christianity was a cultural norm. Some of it is worse. Sometimes, the Church has been known for being judgmental or for very public, very hypocritical scandals.
The Church is still here. We could ignore our past mistakes or shrink away in shame. Or, we could move forward with honesty.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to address the mistakes that the church has made, and is still making. I’m thankful for the opportunity to participate in a missional generation, reforming the church again. I’m thankful for the opportunity to tell my friends and neighbors who Jesus is, even if I have to address their issues with the church.
God is with us and goes ahead of us. I’m thankful that we don’t simply have to live with the old problems of the church. Instead, we serve a God who makes old things….fresh. We get to try again.
Thankful for the chance to experiment
To be completely honest, I have no idea how to be a missional church in my time and place. I know I talk big on the internet, but the truth is, I’m making this up as I go along.
Don’t get me wrong. We have clear beliefs about who Jesus and the Church are. We have some hypotheses about the best way to live that out. We have a few ideas about organize into a Jesus-like, Spirit-led community. We test those ideas out in our neighborhoods. In other words, we experiment!
My current church community is entering our third year, and things are going strong. But it is my third attempt to plant a church. That hurt, but in hindsight, I’m neither surprised or disappointed. Afterall, you can’t expect every experiment in doing something different to work off the bat every single time.
Fresh Expressions is all about empowering pioneering leaders to experiment, and helping established churches and denominations carve out “lab space” where it’s safe to experiment. I’m thankful that I serve a God who lets me experiment, and gives me the strength to try again when it doesn’t always pan out.
Thankful for the eternal gospel
The Apostle Paul spoke of the great King David this way:
…when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried… (Acts 13:36)
For any generation of church leaders, this is the epitaph we hope for: to do the work we were given, in our time and place, well.
We should be thankful because our work, however important it seems to us in the moment, is not God’s work. At least, it’s not all of God’s work. It’s not that God does not care, he has given us responsibilities to steward and the Spirit to guide us. But we must not take ourselves too seriously.
I’m thankful that our good news is eternally good news. The reign of Jesus is always good news. Our light and momentary struggles are not the end of the world. Our successes are a big deal to us, but it’s hard to know what they will mean in the long run.
But our driving goal is an eternal one: to experience the thriving life found in Jesus’ kingdom, and to help others do that as well. This is bigger than any of my goals or hobby horses.
The eternal God has invaded our moments with eternally good news.
Thanks be to God!
What are you thankful for?
Chris works across the organization to help get new projects off the ground and into the world. He also helps to manage our email, social media and other digital communications. He helped plant Austin Mustard Seed, where he served for five years as Community Developer. He also works with several other non-profits and businesses to tell their story with content and social media. In 2012, he graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a M.A. in Global Leadership. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Laura.