Recently, a seminary friend of mine and I were having a conversation about life, ministry, the church. The kinds of things pastors discuss when no one is around to hear. At some point he made the observation that “we don’t serve the church that Duke prepared us to serve.” I had to agree.
We were trained for ministry in the early 1980s and we were trained in a model that emerged following the Second World War. We knew even then that things were changing around us: worship styles, congregational expectations, technology, church size, denominational influence. What we didn’t know and couldn’t anticipate was the pace of the change, how we would navigate it (or not), and what the church would look like on the other side. Everything was in flux and the church that my parents knew would not be the church that my children would know (much less, my grandson). We didn’t realize until recently that we were living in what Phyllis Tickle calls “the great emergence.”
In some ways, the culture and the church are mirror images of that rapidity of change. If I am not serving the church that Duke prepared me for, neither is the church serving the world that it has known for most of the last two to three hundred years. We have a timeless message, yes, but we proclaim it to an ever-changing world and culture. Truth be known, the church is often the last institution to catch up with change.
Which brings us to Building to Serve. This Sunday, we’ll spend some time together reflecting on Christ’s invitation for us to serve the time that we are in. What does it look like for us “to serve the present age” (in the words of Charles Wesley’s great hymn)? What does it mean for our vision, our mission, our ministries, and our campus to take seriously the needs and challenges of the mid-21st century? How can we be faithful in our time as generations before us were in theirs? Will we respond with the same urgency as the first disciples when Jesus called them (see Mark 1:16-18)? And will we believe and cling to the hope that “the one who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it” (Philippians 1:3-11)?
If nothing changes between now and then (and perhaps even if it does), I hope to see you Sunday.
Grace and peace.