By Associate Conference Minsiter Daniel Ross-Jones
It may only be 14 days into the year when I sit down to write this article, yet already I think we are all going to be exhausted by ‘clever’ references to 2020 vision by the time we write the book on this first year of the decade. So forgive me as I already continue the metaphor here.
During the 2010s, Christian practice shifted in ways that accelerated many numerous trends that had already been emerging. The rate of change seemed to increase exponentially, and indeed that was the case in a number of areas. The general narrative of decline and its accompanying anxiety is, at this point, widely established – and I choose not to give it further airtime in this space for one major reason: the world doesn’t need an anxious church. The world needs a church that cultivates hope and transforms lives.
I sat in a meeting in the second half of 2019 listening as well-intentioned, good-hearted elders of a congregation in our Conference told me all the things Millennials were looking for in a church as well as all the things their particular congregation had to offer Millennials – including any number of things Millennials ‘don’t know they need.’ I listened as these faithful, anxious elders lamented the ways they felt like their church’s best days were behind them. I heard their fear in the future, the ways in which they circled around and around themes of scarcity in the present. I listened and smiled and nodded along until there was a break in the conversation where I could jump in.
First, I asked them if they could step back for a moment and speak only for themselves and only from their own experience. As well-intentioned as they were in their research and knowledge, I reminded them that no one person or amount of research can speak for millions of people born in the 1980s and ‘90s. (I then gently reminded them that I was born in the 1980s and could speak to the experience of the acculturation of my generational cohort in a way that they could not and that I was sitting with them in their church in that very moment.)
Then, I asked them what excited them about their church’s mission and purpose, what they wanted to celebrate and what is amazing them right now about their community. It broke my heart when, after a pause, one of them honestly and tenderly responded, “I don’t know. I feel like we haven’t been excited in a while.”
At its heart, philanthropy and stewardship in the church is a hopeful, joyful celebration of the future. It is a future-oriented activity. It is the confident response by a donor to the inspired hope in the realized transformation of the world.
Sadly, for many among us, our fear and anxiety about the present is preventing us from boldly claiming (and proclaiming!) our 2020 vision of why it is we exist and our hope for the future. Instead, our vision is reduced to mere survival or a wistful desire to return to a rosy-colored vision of the past.
Neither survival nor celebration of the past is a motivating reason for most people, regardless of generation, to cross the threshold of your church entrance or contribute financially to the offering plate.
Poet Saeed Jones shares about his family tradition of making new year’s determinations rather than resolutions. Illustrating the example of his mother, Jones is inspired by her dogged embrace of intentionality to achieve precisely because of the challenges of life presented to her. I wonder what it would mean for our religious practice to change our focus? What would it mean for navigating change if we were a determined people in 2020, allowing our vision to shape our imagination for our small part of this world God loves and calls us to co-create?