On Monday, the fourth of July I will be remembering an important anniversary in my life and my time in ministry. No, not American Independence Day. Only that I was ordained as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) on July 4th, 2009.
I was 26 at the time and went from being a full-time student my entire adult life to serving a congregation on my own as “The Pastor.” I was full of enough naive and youthful confidence that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Still, my immediate experience was that my sense of the future church was much different than nearly everyone I was working with. Most of the church leaders and most of my colleagues were old enough to be my parents or grandparents. It wasn’t long before it became clear that most people when imagining the church were thinking one or two or five years down the road, if they were thinking forward at all. Often times the church of people’s imagining was a church 10, 25 or 50 years prior.
My first pension plan statement really brought home the difference for me. My expected retirement was in 2048 – 39 years from my starting date.
Well, this year I am about one third of the way into those 39 years, and if you did the math based on my ordination date and age, you will know that there is a milestone birthday coming up for me.
With my 13th anniversary of ordination on the horizon, I have to say that things aren’t much changed. I still spend a lot of my time speculating about what the church will look like between now and 2048. Not just because it is my retirement year. Now, I often think about the church of my children’s future, and what it will look like for them.
I think a lot of people in church leadership these days, whether lay or ordained, might think I am still naive for imagining a church that exists that far into the future. For a lot of people, imagining a church that is NOT closed one, two, five or ten years from now is really hard.
In fact, a lot of the big questions that loomed in the background in the past decade or two have been pushed to the forefront. Questions are on our minds more than ever about whether or not the church that many have known for the past 50, or 60 or 70 years can survive into the future.
Certainly it is on my mind.
But let me say this, even though there are big questions demanding to be answered just ahead of us, I don’t think I have ever felt less concerned about the church’s survival than I am now in 2022. I think the church needs to change and the way we do ministry together needs continued adaptation, but I can picture the church of 2048 as clearly as I ever have been able to.
Thirteen years ago I was often planning for the church of the future, and that hasn’t changed for me.
As I have been musing about visioning for the past three weeks, I hope it has been clear that I think God is calling us into the future. A future already prepared by God, a future that will stretch and challenge us, a future that will make the church look even more different than it has since the 1950s. It will be hard, and it will be exciting.
But most of all, I believe that God will carry us through. Even when we are sure that the end has come for us, or think that it isn’t worth the effort anymore, God will show us the way.
In fact, if there is something I learned in 13 years of ministry, God is already showing us the way to the next thing. The question is whether we are ready to go along for the journey.