There are many things that make the reformed tradition unique; at the change of the year I am always reminded of one of my favorite attributes of our tradition. This attribute is the theological understanding that “we are reformed and always being reformed.” This is something that is really neat since it reminds us that we need to both allow ourselves to be ever changing, but also not to hold strong to things that might get in the way of our faith.
Now some will say this is about change for change’s sake; that is not the case. If it were, we would be living into our own wants and comfort. It would be as bad as if we never changed our traditions or practices. As most people who have ever been in church leadership know, traditions and practices can often be the biggest block to active ministry, because often we have to satisfy our practices and traditions before we are able to explore how we are called to actively serve God.
Most sociologists and church strategists point to this as a key reason why so many churches struggle today. Because they are not able to let go of past practices and traditions, they are often no longer relevant because their concerns are not placed on meeting and adapting to their communities; rather, they are about maintaining and surviving as an institution.
One of my favorite theologians said to me as I was getting ready to be ordained, never forget that “the goal of any church is not to make people happy and definitely not to be around forever, it is to serve God and help people to connect; once the church tries to make people happy or to secure its future, the church no longer serves God because it is either a social club or an institution unto itself.”
This was said to me, now, 15 years ago, and since then there have been numerous books and studies that have proven that statement not only to be true but to be a big reason why so many churches are struggling, or the other phenomena of how they can grow so fast and then come crashing down just as fast.
As I have said before, this is why in the new year we are focusing on one of those many books that talk about this: A Field Guide for the Missional Congregation. This is a great thing for our church to look at since we are in the midst of discerning how we do ministry and relate to our community. It is also crucial as we celebrate 125 years of ministry in San Jose and begin to ask how we are going to be relevant and faithful as a congregation for the next 125 years.
While all of our elders and deacons will be part of the discussion, I do invite anyone else in the congregation to join us for the first half hour of the Session and Deacons meetings this year for the discussion, or you can just read along in the book which is available in the office.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen