I love projects. I think it has to do with starting out in a Montessori preschool, but projects make me happy. They have a beginning and an end because of the finite nature of projects, and they tend to be linear, even if the process wavers from that from time to time. The problem with projects is that they are “controlled,” usually by either an outside source or desired outcomes.
This was made abundantly clear when I worked for a market research company in high school. Yes, I was one of those annoying people at the mall that would pull you away from your shopping to ask a question or two, which always turned into a 15- to 20-minute conversation. It was interesting to watch this process, because rarely did the marketing companies want an unbiased answer. From doing enough of the surveys, it was easy to see what they were trying to prove, and if there was an answer that was given that did not match the desired response, we were taught to “clarify.” This forced the “right” answer.
When researchers look at congregations that are in decline, they can point to the measurable start of the decline, and sometimes triggers decades prior to that start. Often the decline starts with a series of decisions by the church to maintain the growth they had or achieve the growth they desired. This means that instead of paying attention to the world around them and the needs people have, the focus became internal.
This is not unique in any way to the church. As individuals, we do the same thing all of the time. In Silicon Valley, we know this all too well! Many jobs have changed, and skills that were once prized are considered archaic and not hirable. Similarly, churches and other institutions that were once vital are lost, mostly because they will not take the time to be renewed and rebuilt.
This week we encounter the prophecy of the potter’s house in Jeremiah¾another one of my favorite passages! Having thrown a few pots in my youth, I love the imagery of taking the scraps of clay and making something new and beautiful from them.
There are a couple very interesting things about throwing a pot. First, you cannot force clay to do what you want. You have to finesse it, slowly convincing the clay to curve and take the desired shape. The same is true with faith and the church. If you force faith or success, you’re going to be disappointed, even if you get what you wanted.
Second, re-creation is always possible, and often, what is renewed is more beautiful than what came before. This is true when I am creating something, especially things like this!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen