The “Am-against-it” church

Howard E. Friend, writing in the Alban Institute Weekly, explores how the embers of an “Am-against-it” Church can begin to burn with the fires of the Spirit:

Some churches have become a cold, gray hearth, with nary a sign of life. Others have stoked and tend a full and robust fire. But in between, I am convinced, there are some congregations, maybe more than we’d guess, awaiting a discerning eye to bend close enough to see the glow of scattered embers, breathe gently to invite those coals to burn a touch brighter, patiently await a first leap of new flame, and only then blow with vigor to fan the spreading fire. “Blow on the sparks, even if the hearth looks dead.


Someone warned him about those who’d likely challenge him on each and every front, which he chose to hear as an invitation to make some pastoral calls. Alert and insightful, he discerned almost immediately some steps to take that might be promising. He visited people in their homes and dropped by where parishioners worked. Genuinely curious about the church’s history, he set up some tables in the church’s narthex and invited folks to bring memorabilia that told the church’s story across the decades. Starting slowly, a momentum of energy and enthusiasm picked up as yellowed and faded photos of a generation or two ago appeared.

The pastor invited parishioners in groups of ten or twelve for coffee and conversation after church. In a quiet, engaging, genuinely interested way, he’d ask, “Tell us when you first came to this church. Who was there to greet you? Who do you remember with fondness and gratitude? How has this church guided you, supported you, taught you, touched you? What challenges did this church rise to over the years? What are its proudest moments? How did the church reach out to our community?”

Concluding —

This work is not easy and the outcome is never assured. It takes a steadiness of pace and staying power. I see congregations stir fresh vision, generate new excitement, reorganize for mission and ministry, seeming so close to renewal and revitalization, only to snap back—”so close” being as close as they get. People who argue that the church is dead are persuasive. And some churches are! But it takes a knowing, discerning, penetrating look of pastors and laity together to perceive those barely glowing embers, to believe a fine grain lies beneath layers of paint.

There may be individuals within these apparently lifeless churches in whom a sense of possibility lingers, who await gentle, hopeful encouragement. They need steady pastoral leadership, preaching tuned to idioms and realities of their everyday life, patient and attentive pastoral care. I am convinced that more than a few churches at risk of being written off as dead or dying have a hearth faintly aglow with embers ready to be breathed into flame. And I am encouraged, because Todd isn’t the only Todd I know.

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