I've been a pastor for 31 years, I've been through several searches - the process of finding a church to serve - and have tried several times to read profiles of churches and find a way to be what they are looking for because they were an appealing to me. My track record? Not all that good from the point of view of how long I've been places. But from the point of view of what I was able to accomplish, well that's another story until the last two. The churches grew by about 30%, attendance increased, and new programs were added or dead programs revived. In the last two churches, well, perhaps the best way to look at it is that we - the church and I - failed to clearly communicate with one another about what our expectations and our willingness to change.
I firmly believe the Christian Church actually needs to change dramatically to continue to exist in any meaningful manner. The pattern of existence from half a century ago will not help the church live into the future, nor will it help the world to find a better path to living peacefully and justly. Part of that change is the need for members to connect once more with the early church pattern of each member finding their particular gift(s) and then actively using that gift(s) to help the community, which will then help the particular congregation grow. I've even heard of churches that have done this that actually intentionally, amiably separated to create additional congregations more closely connected with the communities from which they drew members. Some church growth experts speak of satellite congregations connected under a founding church where closed circuit television allows a single pastor to preach to a variety of congregations using different worship styles and focused on a slightly different manner of carrying out their mission.
I've recently video taped a sermon trying to fit what one church might have wanted. I sent them the disk and never heard back from them until the disk returned. I'm preparing to do another and have decided that I will do this one as I have become comfortable delivering the message. As a colleague from Iowa (now in Wisconsin) said, "I'm [sixty] years old! I don't have to apologize for what I know, or what I believe." I will continue to try to learn, to adapt, but I really don't need to be like the religious leaders of Jesus' time trying to fit into the political realities to the point of losing who I am from my faith perspective; rather I need to remain true to my faith, and seek to find ways that will help others understand my beliefs, as well as trying to understand theirs.
If persons of faith can learn to respectfully live with one another without declaring only one stated set of beliefs are true, I believe we can start learning that the Divine has come repeatedly to help us try to understand what we CAN be. We need to learn to see the person behind the beliefs, to see the child of the divine rather than an enemy to be conquered, subjugated, converted.
Perhaps by sharing, we can begin to learn from one another.