God is Doing a New Thing. Are We?
by Tim Beck
New Church Start Team, East Ohio Conference
(originally published in the WINDOW bi-monthly newsletter May-June '11)
One of the most chilling paintings I‟ve laid eyes on was painted by Vincent Van Gogh, the famous 19th Century Dutch post-impressionist painter. The title of the painting is The Church at Auvers and it was painted by memory in 1890, shortly before his untimely death. The painting depicts a church north of Paris. What is haunting about Van Gogh‟s interpretation is that the foreground is lush with green grass and signs of life, but the church is cast in the midst of a dark, looming shadow. The windows are dark and closed and there is no visible door. In his own words, Van Gogh described the church as follows: “it neither reflects nor emanates any light of its own.”
Sadly, this impression of the church is not exclusive to Van Gogh. For many, churches are more haunting than wel- coming; more closed than open; more dark than light. It‟s not that we (the church) don‟t have good intentions. It‟s not that we (the church) intend to shun, but the harsh reality is this: people in America feel less connected with the church building and the church body. We know this because by-and-large mainline denominations have witnessed a steady decline in attendance and membership over the past 10 plus years. The United Methodist Church has had a 7% drop in membership since 2001. That‟s 600,000 people who have left.
This is haunting. But it‟s also nothing we didn‟t already know.
This begs the question: what can we do to reverse such a pattern? I realize I‟m hardly the first person to point out the obvious nor am I the first to ask such a question. None the less, it‟s worth exploring, examining and engaging.
Let‟s face it, while the lights might be on inside the church; while worship and study might be taking place inside the walls, darkness might be perceived to be shadowing the church. We might not see it that way - but to those who have no desire to enter in, how do we suppose they see it? How do we suppose they see us? Kester Brewin, the English author, teacher and church planter refers to those not connected to a faith community as the „Other‟. To the „other‟, church is the same as it always was. Why should they bother?
Maybe what we‟re offering isn‟t fresh enough. Perhaps we‟re missing out on the new things God has in store for us (the church). If we hope for the Gospel to reach the world around us then we have to be concerned with how we are perceived, no matter if the world‟s view is right or wrong. We need a fresh church, a new church. Remember the words of Isaiah “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way...” (Isaiah 43:19). God is doing a new thing, but is the church?
Am I suggesting that we change the Gospel? Absolutely not. I am, however, suggesting that our approach to the ministry of the Gospel might need to be „freshened up.‟ If we the church can tap into a fresh approach, perhaps our shadowed perception might fade away and the light of Christ would shine through.
In what ways could you and your church "freshen up‟?