Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Three Kinds of Churches

Len Sweet, whom we preachers know well, is a professor at Drew Divinity School. He is a historian/preacher/theologian. He is a kind of prognosticator/prophet, if you will, in church matters. He sees the vast changes that have happened in our world and culture in the last 40 years, and he calls the church and us pastors to respond in kind. He has all kinds of ways of looking at church and world.

One of his ways of analyzing churches came my way recently. Len Sweet says that there are three kinds of churches: undertaking, care taking, and risk-taking.

You know what an undertaking church is. These are churches that are more concerned with the dead than the living. Now, certainly, we, in our faith community, must be concerned with the dying. But, an undertaking church is one that is content just to fade into existence and bury itself in the past. Churches like this turn away from any opportunity to grow or change.

A care taking church is one that cares only about its own people. As a district superintendent I learned just how many of our churches are "family" churches. That means that the only way to get into those churches is to marry into them. You become literally one of the family. The focus of these church is totally inward with little or no concern with anybody who is not literally connected to them and their way of life. A visitor to these churches is likely to notice right off that they are not "part" of the group, and never will be.

The last kind of church is a risk-taking church. These are churches who risk a raising a budget to meet the needs of ministry. These churches are focused outwardly on the community and the world. These churches may make decisions sometimes that do not "make sense" to anyone. They trust God through the Holy Spirit to guide them into his way. They work and plan and trust God.

Now there's probably some of all those kind of churches in all of our churches. But, if there is too much undertaking, and care taking, and not much risk-taking, then we are doomed to live in the past. Jesus calls us not to live risk-free lives, but to launch out into the deep, to take a chance sometimes, to move forward, even though we can't see everything out there, because we trust that that is where Jesus wants us to be- in his future.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

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Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.

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A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

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