How do we as Church minister to those for whom Church has become irrelevant, to those who are seeking after and calling for a change in the way we do Church? Can we be content as Pope Benedict XVI once suggested in an audience who is small yet obedient? As one who has had the pulse of those who are seeking after change (innovators) and those who have already left (recoverings), I propose that we MUST minister to the needs of this audience because as much as the Institutional Church might be tempted to judge and condemn, it is the innovators and recoverings who hold the keys to the future of Church.
So Over the Church Thing!
Seeking after, listening to and tending to the needs of the innovators and recoverings is a challenging thing because in truth, most of them are SO OVER the whole Church thing. To them, the Church has become irrelevant because in their eyes, the Church assumed that salvation was the number one priority of all believers. For innovators and recoverings, salvation is the last thing on their minds. Concerns about a heavenly reward take a back seat when earth itself feels like hell! When one cries out with their simple need to be loved, or asks for help in finding peace, or seeks assistance in discerning the direction of their lives and are met with silence, sooner or later they stop asking and find other ways to get their needs met.
Heavenly Reward or Heaven on Earth?
The old ways of being Church, with its emphasis on salvation and building the kingdom of God simply doesn’t work for innovators and recoverings. Instead, the Church needs to meet them where they are at – seeking after the fulfillment of some basic human needs:
- The need to be loved
- The need to find inner peace
- The need to find meaning, purpose, connection and fulfillment
In tending to the basic needs of innovators and recoverings, it is helpful to understand where they are currently seeking after the fulfillment of these needs. The needs that they were not getting fulfilled in Church are now being met in the secular world – in Mindfulness and Zen meditation groups, at the yoga studio or local gym, local coffee shop or music festival, in the voracious reading of spiritual, personal development and self-help books, and in volunteering their time to the needs of the greater community. Here they are finding tools for personal development, cultivating inner peace, finding community and serving others. This is what they are looking for and as Church, this is what we are called to offer to them – but again, in a way that differs dramatically from the way in which we have formerly been Church.
When Church is No Longer Relevant
In ministering to the needs of those for whom Church is no longer relevant, first we have to understand that they have been hurt – they left because they did not feel loved and accepted, and because their needs were not being heard, let alone met. As such, doctrine and prostheletizing need to be set aside. Then, we meet them where they are at – LITERALLY! We show up to the yoga studio, hang out at satsangs and new age bookstores, schedule “office hours” at the local coffee shop, occasionally throw back a beer at the local music festival and give our time to Habitat for Humanity, Rotary and The Red Cross. And when we meet them where they are at, we approach them with one thing, and one thing only – unconditional love. Meeting innovators and recoverings with unconditional love implies the following:
- Treating them with unconditional positive regard
- Listening intently to what they have to say (even if it challenges our closely held beliefs or ruffles our feathers)
- Hold space for any grief that they may need to process from feeling hurt, disillusioned or betrayed by Church
- Be open to understanding what their real needs might be so that we may tend to their needs
- Be a vehicle of support through which they can find ways to get these needs met
When we meet innovators and recoverings in this way, we are doing exactly what Jesus asked us to do and while it looks nothing like how we have known Church to be, we are being Church in perhaps the most authentic way. In fact, I seem to remember a certain carpenter from Nazareth who ministered in exactly the same way.