We live in a country that, at this particular moment in time, seems stuck in a deepening sense of fear. Much of this fear is directed at people and institutions who are “other,” who we expect to hurt us, to try and take important things from us, to change the way that we understand the world to work. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is not immune to such feelings, despite our insistence that in God we have the fullness of life and love.
According to author Philip Wiehe, “Congregations fear death…pastors and laity alike assume that their responsibility is to keep the church going in the form of the particular congregation that they happen to be in at the moment.” This adherence to “the way we do it” leads to calcification and a refusal to consider the strategies necessary to successfully adapt to the inevitable changes. Whether it’s a figuring out what to do with a crumbling building that has long outlived its usefulness or integrating a sudden influx of families with wiggly children, congregations focused on their fears are prone to overlook the signs of life that should be leading them forward.
One of the deadliest consequences of this fear is a breakdown in clear communication. Unhealthy congregations operate with a public face of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” while clandestine parking lot meetings turn into complaint sessions with vestry members.
Unaddressed fears drive most of the dumb decisions churches make. Overcoming fear takes trust, patience, and knowledge, a willingness to engage the “what if” questions with honesty and vulnerability, and remember that God is with us no matter how the winds of change may blow.