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Church plants that no longer bear fruit

Church plants that no longer bear fruit

Is one person’s “stability-protecting, past-perpetuating institution” another’s “inertia that is preserving our Gospel proclamation”?

“Though this county has lost a third of its population, it now has the third highest influx of Spanish speaking people. That building was built after the fire – in the Forties – they still call it ‘the new church,’” I say, showing off my reading. It is my custom to ask for a summary of the demographic context and the congregational history when I make a Sunday visit. While my sermon preparation is helped by knowledge of the congregation’s past, the truth is that most of our congregations have more history behind them than future before them.

The majority of our congregations, like the one where I’m the visiting preacher today, are located where they were planted a century ago. In every case, the community that gave them birth has relocated. Though the people around the congregation have changed, the congregation has remained fixed on the same land where it was established and, in many cases, fixed in the same rhythms of congregational life that worked for them decades ago, but no longer work today.

That’s one of the things people love about a church – it doesn’t move. It blooms where planted and, long after it has ceased to be fruitful, stays planted. …

What is incomprehensible is that we call this stability-protecting, past-perpetuating institution “the Body of Christ.” All the gospels present Jesus as a ceaseless peripatetic. Never once did he say, “Settle down with me.” No, with vagabond Jesus it was always, “Follow me!”

One way to tell if a congregation is healthy is that it is on the move, trying to keep up with the machinations of the risen Christ. Thanks be to God the majority of our churches, though they may have been planted where they are a century ago, show a wonderful willingness to be in motion with the risen Christ.

That’s Will Willimon; read it all.

Compare to Derek Olsen’s recent Daily Episcopalian essay, Tiwwadi: Between Inertia and Incarnation. A snippet:

There is a logic of the ages embodied in tiwwadi [that is the way we have always done it] that inhibits careless tampering.

So, here’s my first major point: if someone calls “Tiwwadi” on you, take a step back and think carefully. What inertia are you trying to overcome—an inertia born of stagnation, or an inertia that is preserving our Gospel proclamation? When we starting looking from this perspective, we begin to recognize that a systematic dismantling of a congregation’s tiwwadi mechanism may accomplish more harm than good in the long run.


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C. Wingate

I always wonder what to think of sermons like Willimon’s. Part of me wants to go out and list all the many parts of scripture where God is depicted in metaphors of stability and strength; part of me wants to say “the apostles were bishops and you’re a bishop, so maybe this just means that YOU don’t get a place to lay your head.” It also might be pointed out that Jesus’ peripatetic ministry was supported by a lot of people like Lazarus who owned homes and who made a place for the travelling disciples.

This is so very much a “change” sermon, the kind of rationalization that clerics give for their destructive acts. If the bishop has to close a parish, so be it; but don’t paint over it with euphemisms and double-talk.

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