Embracing Dismantling: Recapturing and the Essence of Church in a Changing World

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash
Sometimes I walk into my kid's room and find all the Lego pieces of various houses and airplanes completely dismantled and made in something new. I am uncomfortable with this because I know the hours that went into building those original designs. "Put it back the way it was," is what I want to say. However, the creativity of Legos is that the building block is their DNA, it is their purpose, not the form they take. 

"It is different than it was before," is a statement we say about many things in this post-pandemic world (and I am learning to say it about my children's Lego creations). We see the world behaving in so many ways that are different post-pandemic. For example in our area restaurants that used to be open past midnight and grocery stores that were open 24 hours a day now close fairly early. Additionally, we see it in the declining support of places of entertainment and worship. Things have become dismantled in so many ways. 

In my full-time role, in the post-pandemic realities, I have experienced and heard about the lack of volunteers. As a local pastor, in this era of rapid change and shifting paradigms, I have also seen the concept of what the church is and does come under scrutiny like never before. Some of that scrutiny is needed and some of it is biased and unfair. As society continues to evolve and cultural norms shift, many find themselves questioning the relevance and effectiveness of traditional church structures. All of it feels like we are being dismantled, and the pieces are just laying out on display. 

The truth is we aren't just now dismantling as teh church. Many of us have been questioning certain postures and practices of the church for a long time. I am not questioning the need for church communities and faith communities that worship, fellowship, disciple, and share mission together. Instead, for years many of us have asked questions about whether the way we are doing our expression of church is scriptural, sustainable, and effective. The post-pandemic world has only put light through the cracks that were already present and widening in the Western practice of church. Yet, amidst this uncertainty, I truly believe that there is an opportunity—an opportunity to reimagine what the local church community can be while holding steadfast to timeless truths and scripturally ordained DNA. This is a near and dear conversation to me because in both of my roles, I serve the church community in some fashion, and I care for the local church in all of its expressions. As the pastor of a small but growing church community, I am very familiar with the dismantling, or finding the pieces of community laid out in a different way. I face the advantages and disadvantages of this season day in and day out. Each day I see breakthroughs and blessings, but I also see hindrances and difficulty. I know these growing tensions and emotional roller coasters affect the spiritual, mental, and physical health of the leaders of local church communities.

Reimagining is about Recapturing, not Reimaging. 

It would be fun to speculate what might happen if we chose to see all the dismantling not as an enemy but as something that needs to be embraced. Perhaps dismantling is an important opportunity at our doorsteps, the chance to discern our methods and postures, to capture God's imagination for the church in our local contexts. By calling us to reimagine the church, I am not calling us to re-image the church in some cultural or personal formula and framework. What you know God has called you to, defined with all your might. Rather, I am challenging us to capture God's creativity, commands, and concepts for the church in today's context. In calling and challenging us all to reimagine the church, or recapture God's prophetic imagination for the church, we must still remain grounded in the direction and wisdom of the scriptures that remind us of the value of preserving core principles. I want us to dismantle the excess, and I want us to reimagine the church but I don't want us to re-image the church. The church doesn't need a new identity, it needs better practices. I don't want to lose the church's identity, but I want it to rediscover what is possible and what was embedded into our original charges. Reimagining the expression of the local church to which we belong does not mean abandoning our tradition, forsaking our heritage, or running from our movements. Instead, this dismantling season is a call from Jesus on the mainline to find the posture he instilled in the local church community, a posture that can still meet the needs of a changing world and speak life to those trying to find hope in the encroaching darkness.

Don't neglect the needed theological struggle with tension.

Pastoring in today's context is not just about overseeing a church community of Jesus' followers. No, instead, it is a deeply theological endeavor. Don't be scared of the word theological. All we think, believe, act, and know about God is a form of theology. Integrating into our life our understanding of God is practical theology. As pastors, we engage in the ongoing process of exegeting our local faith communities. Much like scholars analyze biblical texts, we must seek to understand the nuances, expressions, and structures that make each local church community unique in the New Testament. Drawing from the diverse examples and teachings found in the New Testament, we must grapple with the practical theological implications of honoring the timeless ways, words, and works of the early church within our modern local contexts. This theological work is essential to faithfully capture what Jesus intended for his church. It requires us to wrestle with tensions—between simplicity and method, innovation and tradition. In wrestling with the tension, we are seeking to find the radical middle where gospel and kingdom practices can be lived out in Jesus-honoring ways, but in ways they can speak life to those struggling in our neighborhoods, cities, and countrysides. It's through this ongoing wrestling and struggle that we strive to faithfully navigate the complexities of contemporary ministry, always anchored in the foundational truths of our faith. This will not be easy work. When you take your furniture apart and move, after it's been dismantled and you are putting it back together, it's hard. As the Lego sets your kids have are dismantled and rebuilt into new things, it's humbling. The same will be true of the church, but we aren't building something new, but something old.

We must also wrestle with place.

Reimagining the local church, and wrestling through the theological tensions, allows us to recapture timeless postures and frameworks for worship, community building, and outreach that resonate with what it means to be a faithful, missional, and incarnational presence in our unique places. Dismantle your idea of business strategy and strategic business growth, and embrace the investment of neighbor through place. Perhaps more than ever we need to develop a theological understanding of place and the importance of place. Simply put, place matters, and until we determine what role our church community places in its place, we will not further our God-given vocations as a community. Reimaginging our expressions as local church communities allows us to open the door to not only innovative approaches to ministry but even simpler ways that prophetically stand against the excess and abundance of the world around us. I truly believe that in learning what our sphere of influence is, or our place, we then can embrace change, we can reach new audiences, engage with diverse communities, and make a meaningful impact in the world around us. More importantly, we can be a faithful, missional, and incarnational presence in our neighborhoods and no longer feel the tension of maintaining methods, systems, and buildings just for the sake of tradition and singular paradigmatic ways. Ultimately, by discerning our sphere of influence and embracing innovation, we can faithfully embody the transformative power of the gospel in our neighborhoods, cities, and countrysides, transcending singular paradigms to become truly inclusive, relevant, and impactful expressions of Christ's love.

Be more by doing less.

As a pastor in a small context, I am discovering the power of being more by doing less. I love being able to journey as a pastoral leader at River Corner Church. To me, River Corner Church is a holy experiment, and simply stated we are a community that is learning to believe in doing less but also discovering more about what it truly means to be connected with God, with one another, and with what truly matters in life. We embrace simplicity, recognizing that in scaling back, we often find deeper connections and richer experiences. Our gatherings prioritize intimate moments of worship, study, and fellowship, where we can truly engage with each other and with God in meaningful ways. There are low expectations and coffee breaks with cookies. I truly believe I am watching a faith community that wants to value quality over quantity, focusing on building genuine relationships and nurturing spiritual growth. Rather than being driven by busyness or the pressure to do more, we prioritize the things that truly matter. In a world that often values productivity and achievement, we are discovering the beauty of simplicity and the richness that comes from slowing down and being fully present in the moment. As we embrace this mindset, we find ourselves growing closer to God and to each other, and discovering a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment in our lives.

Tag, you're it.

As you reflect on the transformative power of simplicity and intentional living, I challenge you to bring these principles into your own local church community. Take a moment to consider how your church can strip away the excess and embrace a mindset of doing less while being more—more connected with God, with one another, and with what truly matters in life. Challenge your community to prioritize quality over quantity, nurturing genuine relationships and spiritual growth in the process.

As leaders and members of local church communities, it's time to challenge traditional paradigms and embrace the tension of recapturing and re-imagining. Invite your fellow congregants to join you on this journey of rediscovery, rooted in timeless truths and scriptural wisdom, yet open to innovative approaches that speak life to those in need. Together, may we find the courage to wrestle with the tensions, embrace simplicity, and faithfully embody the transformative power of the gospel in our communities and beyond.

How have you explored this need to dismantle?

Who have you seen dismantle the excess well?

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