In 1964, I lived through the 9.2 magnitude earthquake in Alaska. I was only five years old at the time, but the images are still vivid in my mind. I remember seeing my yard from the window of our stairwell landing as we ran down. I later understood how the shifting of the tectonic plates caused the ground to rise to the height of a first-floor roof. On that Good Friday, we experienced the kind of shift the world had rarely seen.
Shifts are interesting phenomena. They usually refer to important changes that happen when the usual way of thinking or doing something gives way to new or different methods. Shifts can come up voluntarily or unexpectedly, or be imposed by outside forces that induce us to change whether or not we are ready or willing. Then our response to these unexpected moves follows. There is no doubt that we are now living in a time of major shifts. Such shifts in our church life, what I call ‘Sacred Shifts,’ bring us to a point of reflection and decision-making.
Now we find ourselves entering a time of Advent, where COVID-19 has been the cause of a different kind of seasonal celebration and proclamation. We live in anticipation of what will emerge moving forward. In the midst of this turmoil, there lingers a sense that something different is coming – whether we are ready for it or not.
COVID-19 has forced a new reality on the church that we are still trying to understand. We believe we have found and embraced new ways of ‘doing church’ – worshipping, serving, practicing fellowship – but have we really? Or, are some of us just counting the days until we can go back to how it all used to be?
Speaking honestly, there is no going back. At least not without facing the consequences of perpetuating the dismal state in which many of our congregations find themselves. While tempting, staying that course does not guarantee a different outcome. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Outward change does not last unless inner change drives it. That is why the first Sacred Shift each of us needs to make is in our personal relationship with God. Specifically, we need to refresh our vision of God in order to open ourselves up to the transformative shifts God has in store for us.
I have lost count of how many webinars and Zoom meetings I have been a part of where the topic has been Sacred Shifts. From these, I have put together a list of shifts I feel churches need to consider. While it is not complete or exclusive, I hope this list will start some conversation around those church-changing shifts we need to be willing to embrace. If we are, we will continue to be effective proclaimers of the powerful Advent message we have to share with the world. Granted, this conversation is not new. For years, we have been talking about the need for change. Now, however, with all of the challenges presented by the pandemic, our churches have a great opportunity for deep and honest conversation on what we need to embrace to become thriving communities of faith.
From Survival to Serving
Moving away from a motive of self-preservation to one of genuine service will enable us to reimagine our community life in a new way. A sense of fear robs us of the joy of living the gospel message to its fullest. As in the story of Stone Soup, we are reminded that all we really need to meet the needs of others we already possess. The true miracle of service is looking at our resources from the perspective of faith and generosity. A culture of abundance can emerge even in the midst of limited resources. Our Center for Faith and Giving walks us through what it means to engage in a shift so that we can leverage our resources for service. Rev. Bruce Barkhauer has been leading us in this Sacred Shift as we move from a survival mentality into one of serving generosity.
From Members to Disciples
Membership is a dying concept. People no longer join institutions for the sake of joining. People seek to be part of something that gives meaning and relevance to their lives. They want to make a difference. Imagine a church that trains and empowers them to do so. Several years ago, a Lilly Endowment grant resulted in a book titled Churches That Make a Difference: Reaching your Community with Good News and Good Works. This was a call for the development of holistic ministries from the church to the community, empowering both to be agents of change. In this way, spaces were created where people were trained to be the hands and feet of Christ in the communities they served. Almost 20 years after this clarion call, this appears to be a shift some congregations still need to embrace.
From Adding to Multiplying
Bigger is better has always been a benchmark for success. We have bought into this concept in ways that have altered our sense of how we do church. To put all of our eggs in one basket, however, has potential downfalls. Churches embracing this Sacred Shift of multiplying live out a sense of seeding along the way. Our New Church Movement seeks to challenge us to live a multiplying model of church growth that invites people into discipleship and transforming expressions of church life. Pastor Terrell L McTyer, Minister of New Church Strategies, invites us into a Sacred Shift of renewing our commitment to church planting that results in new believers finding their place of discipleship-formation, of worship, and of service so that the body of Christ grows exponentially. Click here to learn more.
From Leadership to Followship
A Sacred Shift that should present no issues for us as Disciples of Christ is the reimagining of church leadership. We are the people who lift up the model of the Priesthood of all Believers. While not all are called to be pastors; we are all called to be ministers. You might be familiar with spiritual gift inventories. Throughout the years, New Church Ministry has used tools developed in-house, as well as Strengthfinders and the Enneagram Personality Test, to help people discern their call to church planting. These same tools can help in the discernment process as churches help their people discover their spiritual gifts and prepare them to lead as followers of Christ. Helping them discern their gifts and ministry calling, and sending them forth in service, will provide a strong example of the church fulfilling its divine call. We proclaim every believer to be a minister; gifted and called to serve, Sacred Shifts!
From Place to Space
DCEF has embraced this Sacred Shift with a passion. Founded in 1883 to help congregations secure land and build churches, DCEF is now reimagining its ministry by providing Holy Places, and not just Holy Places. According to Cary Nieuwhof, the news of the demise of the church building is greatly exaggerated. Read 10 Predictions about the Future Church and Shifting Attendance Patterns to learn more.
Nieuwhof predicts gatherings will be smaller and larger at the same time. Effective Megachurches and small churches will continue to exist, while ineffective ones might pass away. Churches will continue to need places to gather for relationship-building and for discipleship training and sending. Effective churches will see place as a conduit for effective ministries. The need for bigger facilities, as well as smaller facilities, will continue as churches define their ministries and seek to develop stewardship models that allow them to address both space and outreach.
To download a PDF of these suggestions, click here.
Beloved readers, God is calling us to engage in Sacred Shifts. Letting go of the old ways to embrace the new ways for a reimagined, thriving church is God’s desire for all believers. May this Advent presage a risk-taking and faith-led time of shifts for all of us.
Gilberto Collazo loves his church! Born and raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico, his life was shaped by a vital faith community that led and mentored him into service to the community. After almost 20 years of ministry at DCEF with new and existing congregations in the U.S., he sees a church still called out to shape, mentor, and equip. Gilberto believes congregations can find new life and relevance if they are willing to do the hard work. “Together we can do great things!” (Psalm 108:13a)
For 137 years, DCEF has offered mission-driven building and capital planning services to congregations and organizations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. Together with our investors and partners, we are Disciples helping Disciples.
As part of DCEF, Hope Partnership Services offers leadership and ministry resources that help raise up empowered leaders and prepare their congregations for transformation.