By Layne Smith
The church was facing some thorny issues with no easy answers or solutions. I arrived a bit early one evening for a committee meeting. As we waited for the last couple of members to arrive, the conversation turned to one of those issues. In response to the discussion, the chair of the committee said, “You know there’s not much wrong with this church that five or six of the right funerals wouldn’t go a long way to fixing.”
Stunned silence. Absolutely stunned silence. I didn’t know how/if to respond. If they taught appropriate responses to that statement in seminary, there is no doubt in my mind that I missed that day. I don’t remember anything that we said after that. However, I do remember that one of the committee members there that night never forgave the chair for that comment as long as I served that church.
Truth be told, though, he was right! That church needed to hold several funerals. No, not one with a deceased person involved, but rather a different kind of funeral.
I have served more than one church that used to be two or three times larger than it was when I had the privilege of being their Senior/Interim Pastor. When the church was much larger, ministries and programs proliferated. Funding and staffing presented no problem for these congregations. But then things changed. The neighborhood began to transition. The church shrank in noses and nickels. The “build it and they will come” mindset no longer worked. The happening-now church opened down the street and began to siphon off younger members. Increasingly, staffing for these programs and ministries became difficult if not impossible. Articles in the newsletter, announcements in worship, and personal invitations failed to provide the necessary resourcing. But still, the church was obstinate. “We CAN do it! We HAVE to do it! We can’t NOT do it.”
Let me offer another option. How about holding a few funerals?
If staffing and financial resources are no longer there, a faith community would do well to ask themselves some questions about these ministries/programs:
- Does it help us live out our God-called mission?
- Is this still needed in our community/faith community?
- Is someone else doing this now, freeing us to reimagine where God may be leading us?
- Can we afford to continue (people-wise and financially)? Is this the best stewardship of our limited resources?
- Are there other directions that we need to move in order to live out our mission more faithfully?
- Has finding people to lead this ministry become almost impossible?
- Should we attempt to do fewer things than we are doing now but do those things better and more effectively?
- Do we need to thank God for the opportunity to give ourselves to this ministry/program, celebrate the successes we’ve experienced, and then have a “funeral” for it, let it go, and move into the new future God has in store for us?
Think about it. Consider it. Pray about it. Struggle with it. Then be open to celebrating and giving thanks for what God has done through this ministry and then have a funeral (or perhaps several funerals), letting several of these ministries and programs go.
Yes, there is loss and grief in letting go. However, we will never be able to move into God’s future for us if we are not willing to ask some hard questions and to let go of some of these sacred cows!
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19 NRSV) What funerals does your faith community need to hold?
Layne Smith is Region 4 Director for CBF Peer Learning Groups, an intentional interim minister, and Interim Ministry Educator for the Center for Congregational Health.