Realism and Hope
In August the Siburt Institute hosted our annual Summer Seminar with the theme, “Rich Heritage, Unfolding Future” (see videos at the bottom of this post). The purpose of the two-day event was to both highlight the legacy of the Stone-Campbell churches and also to take a realistic look at the lengthening decline. In truth, many of our churches face crises on multiple fronts.
We are living in a time when the Christian faith can appear anemic and out of sync with culture. But we are also living with the reality that far too many churches have grown accustomed to focusing on inward care – being a chaplain to the faithful – and have lost the capacity to discern between gospel mandate and “the way we’ve always done things.”
Historians like Wes Crawford, Doug Foster, and Royce Money, along with sociologist Suzie Macaluso, made a clear case that Churches of Christ are in significant decline. But that was not the only focus of the seminar! We also heard from thinkers and theologians like David Kneip and Kent Smith, who reflected on the strengths of our movement and the good resources that are part of our legacy. Randy Harris outlined hopeful theological frames that might guide congregations into renewed thinking about purpose and mission. And we heard from a panel of ministers – David Bearden, Ian Nickerson, and Jarrod Robinson – on the opportunities and challenges facing congregations as they seek to remain faithful to God’s purposes in the world.
Additionally, participants engaged in reflection about the core practices of the church and what sources God gives to congregations to live out Christian community and mission. We explored some of the characteristics of congregations and church plants that are thriving in America – looking for clues that might enliven our own imagination. The seminar closed with a strong plea for hope. To be clear, the hope is not in ourselves, or in the past. Rather, this hope rests in the conviction that God’s purpose for the world will not fail. Our task is not to think so much about our own legacy – but rather God’s action in the world.
Indeed, if restoration means something for those of us who are part of a restoration tradition, then it’s time to reimagine what we mean by the term. Rather than restoration referencing our work in restoring something of the past, we need to take a different view. Perhaps the idea of restoration ought to draw us into the future. Perhaps we will find hope and meaningful work when we look for the ways in which God is at work, restoring the world. Churches who are extending God’s hopeful, restorative work in the world will always find a future.
Blessings on your participation in God’s good work!