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Got despair?

2December2011

For several years now, mainline Christian denominations have been in a state of decline.  Church growth gurus and countless other educated, faithful, and supposedly informed people and organizations have been frantically searching for ways to reverse that trend.  There has been no shortage of “next best things” – pre-packaged programs developed and new (or new/old) approaches engaged in – which held the hope of being the thing that would turn this trend around.  Prior to attending seminary the big emphasis was on discipleship building.  Taking cues from mega-churches  like Willow Creek (Bill Hybels), Saddleback (Rick Warren) and Ginghamsburg (Mike Slaughter), Prince of Peace Lutheran Church (Mike Foss) and Community Church of Joy (Walt Kallestaad)  we all hoped that a shift in emphasis on discipleship development instead of members acquisition would turn the trends around.  Transformational Leadership was the big next best thing when I was in seminary.   Then ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ was supposed to be – was all about being the “missional” church.   Books ABOUND on discipleship and missional church.  If some of those names above sound familiar – they have authored a book or two themselves.

I happen to think that a healthy congregation is a gathering of disciples of Jesus Christ who engage their community – i.e. is missional.   I have many of those books by the experts on my shelves and have read more than my fair share.   We are all excited about being missional and discipleship driven.  Recommendations for these types of books come from every quarter.  I even received a courtesy copy of a book on the missional church when I re-enrolled in seminary this year.  It seems all in-coming students received a copy.  Nothing wrong with that at all.

Out of all of the books on my shelves,  the single best book that I have read in the past few years is “The Promise of Despair” by Andrew Root.  It has been in publication for over a year and I have not heard one person recommend it or talk about it.  In fact, I serendipitously stumbled across it and it sat on MY bookshelf for over a year before I picked it up and read it.  Who wants to read about despair when we can be reading about discipleship and how to be missional, right?  Despair is such a – well, despairing topic.

Here’s the catch.  Andrew Root probably has more authentic and truth-filled things to say about the identity and purpose of the body of Christ and its members than any book on discipleship or being missional.  The irony of it all is that many (if not most) well-intentioned &  faithful pastors and disciples of Jesus Christ, congregations, judicatories, and denominations will do anything, try anything, trust the “next best thing” to avoid their own feelings of death and despair.   Which is pretty ironic when we are a people whose identity is found in the crucified Christ.

Are we – as , Christians, pastors, congregations etc. – willing to enter into the despair of the world, enter into death on a daily basis, face it down and name it for what it is?  Honestly – most of us would prefer the sanctuary of our sanctuaries, our rituals, rites, traditions, and moral superiority.  Let’s face it – crying in the wilderness can end up getting you beheaded .  Who wants to contemplate entering into the wilderness of despair?  We do not want death and despair to touch us.  Yet until we admit that it DOES and WILL we will never fully live the Gospel that reminds us that it is THERE – in the middle of despair and death – that we encounter God in Christ Jesus.  While we are all scurrying around, trying to deny, ignore, and avoid the death and despair that lurks around every dark corner – the life and light of the world is waitning to bring life out of the midst of it.

Looking for the “next best thing” for your journey of faith, pastoral or congrregational ministry?  Trying looking in the midst of despair.

By the way – I have recommended “The Promise of Despair” to colleagues – harrangued them about it in fact.  So far while some have found it interesting, I haven’t heard anyone jumping on the despair bandwagon.  Mapping out a missional community seems so much more pleasant and safe!

KMS @ CCD

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