There have been financial bubbles, housing bubbles, tech bubbles, dot-com bubbles, and more. Bubbles are not new. They have been around for a long time.
“Perhaps the most beautiful one came in the Netherlands when trading of tulip futures — especially bulbs infected by a virus that caused the flower’s petals to develop spectacular colorful patterns — brought rampant speculation in the winter of 1636-37. Bulbs, which have to stay in the ground for most of the year, naturally lent themselves to futures trading with the demand fueled by a highly unequal society looking for rare status symbols. The future contracts provided a cheap way for people to speculate. Hardly any money down was required — when the future contracts came due, prices had fallen and a large number of defaults rippled through society.” (Source)
A financial bubble “occurs when the price of something, such as a financial asset, individual stock, or entire market, exceeds its fundamental worth by a large margin.” (Source)
But I wonder if the concept can be extended beyond finance. Another aspect of a bubble is centered on the belief that what is current will always be the norm so there is no consideration that the future will be any different. And with that thinking comes the set up for certain failure – a popping of the bubble.
I think the church has gone through a sort of bubble and that it burst and few want to admit it. I’m not sure what bubble exactly (as far as specific name goes) though because after the first bubble burst, there has been a series of other bubbles that have burst afterward (Like a ripple effect).
The secondary bubbles are cultural, financial, institutional, and more.
But the church bubble has burst. And what is the church bubble? It’s the idea that we can build a large building without thought of how it will be maintained and sustained into the future because how it is will always be. It’s the idea that the culture will do the work of centering the church in the culture and always will. It’s the idea that the way things are will always be. It’s the idea that the role of the pastor will always be the same. It’s the idea that the institution of the church, how it is organized and structured, and how it operates, will always be the same. It’s the idea that the institution of the church will never have to make significant changes or adaptations to itself, its finances, its structure, how it operates, its roles, etc because institutions are privileged and everyone has to change to meet the institution, not the other way around. It’s the idea that unhealthy and abusive congregational cultures are “normal” and we don’t have to anything about them because that’s just how churches operate because that’s how they will always be. It’s the idea that how we pay our pastors, and the expectations we have of pastors and the assumptions around pastors will remain to be based on a system that is no longer sustainable or workable because this is how we think it has always been (even though it hasn’t). It’s the idea that our main focus should be on the membership rather than discipleship, service, and community engagement because that’s how churches always operated (although that’s not true).
One of the reasons there was a church bubble in the first place is because the church lost sight of why it existed in the first place. This isn’t new though. The church has lost sight of why it exists many times throughout history. This is because the church is made up of people – limited, broken, selfish people who often have trouble admitting they are this way. This isn’t so much a critique of people as it is a recognition of reality. You and I are these people too. We are limited, broken, and when it comes down to it – we are more selfish than we care to admit.
So is it possible for there to have hope for a “better” church? I believe so. Not because people are better. I just told you that the people in the church are broken. Rather, the church isn’t just any other organization. If it was, forget it. We’d be wasting our time. No, the church is different, and it’s supposed to be different. It’s founded by Jesus after all. It’s guided by the Spirit of God. God watches over it. Sometimes that’s really hard to believe given all the abuse and corruption and violence and crap and resistance to the very message of the Gospel that the church has been entrusted with. But that’s where people have been done their part in the church. No, I have hope for the church in spite of this. Call me crazy, that’s fine. I have hope for the church because God doesn’t quit. God keeps transforming the church and the people in it in spite of it all. Using the church to carry the Gospel forward. It’s there if you look through the mess, through the brokenness, through all the junk. It’s there. You can see it in the stories of the saints. You can see it in stories of common people. You can see it so many stories. And these stories are what remains after the bubble bursts.
The church bubble burst. The bubble that was attached to the nostalgia of some ideal (real or imagined) past of the church burst. It ain’t coming back. We don’t need a church that is trying to bring back the past and it’s real or imagined glory days. We need a church that is willing to stand with people now where they are. To stand and sit with people as they suffer. To stand with LGBTQ+ people. To stand with immigrants. To stand with those experiencing poverty and homelessness. To stand with those who suffer the pain of broken relationships. To stand with those who have lost everything. To stand with those whose voices are silenced. To stand up against racism and white supremacy. To stand with countless multitudes who are nameless and faceless and are often unheard by so many in positions of power. We need a church who is willing to stand up.
We also need a church that is willing to sit down. A church that will listen to voices and stories of people. A church that doesn’t have all the answers. A church that will listen and change. A church that will stop pushing away the very people who can help it because it has spent too much time accommodating and keeping others happy who have no interest in seeing any change happen at all. A church that will be congruent between what it claims to believe (life, death, and resurrection and seeing the image of God in other and loving our neighbors and loving our enemies) and how it lives that out.
We need a church that is willing to be vulnerable. A church that is willing to say “We were wrong.” A church that is willing to seek justice without shame because it recognizes that it is in justice that that all people are valued, that the Gospel is lived, and that we love more fully.
We need a church that is willing to be pruned. A church that is willing to cut away that which is not yielding fruit. Many worry that we are losing so much right now. But the reality is we aren’t pruning. We need to prune so that there can be fruit. And there is plenty that can be pruned in the church. But the challenge is this – If the church wants to live by consensus, you’ll never prune because you’ll never agree on what needs to be pruned. We’ll be more concerned with hurting feelings and losing members and donations (that’s the real concern if we are honest). When you try to lead by consensus, all you really do is empower the people who are the least willing to change – and you’ll maintain the status quo, which is leading to a dead end fast. It takes real leadership to prune. And that’s what the church really needs when it comes down to it right now – people willing to say things that others in the church don’t want to hear. Saying things that they may not like at all. Saying things that might cause some of our church folks to walk away even. (Did a pastor just say that!?! – yes, I did). I’m not sorry about this either. For example – White supremacy and racism are antithetical to what it means to follow Jesus. We need to live into this better as a church. And not be silent about this. In fact, we need systemic change in our churches related to this if we are serious about it. If this bothers you, we don’t need your donations and I’ll be happy to show you how to go somewhere else that has no problem ignoring the reality of racism.
This is not a time for maintaining or the status quo – those things lead to a coffin and a burial plot six feet under ground with no hope for resurrection. The church bubble has burst. It’s time for reality. It’s time for the hope of what Jesus offers – transformation. That’s what life, death, and resurrection is all about after all. It’s time to look at what’s going on and figure out how to move forward – to listen to what Jesus is calling on the church to do and be. It’s time to discern how to carry out the mission Jesus has for the church in this time and place. And then to pass it on to whoever is next. And we can’t do that if we are lying to ourselves or to others. If we are making bad assumptions or expectations. If we are living in the past (real or imagined). If we are trying to preserve something that isn’t sustainable as it is, rather than make changes to it so it can fulfill the mission it was created for.
The church bubble burst some time ago. It’s time to face that reality. It’s not time to try and mend the bubble. It’s time to go forward and do the mission. That’s not a sad reality or realization. Dealing with reality is a good thing. The bubble was the fake thing all along. And now it’s gone. Thanks be to God. Now we get to deal with the real thing. We deal with people’s real brokenness. We deal with real questions. We deal with real doubts. We deal with people as they really are – no more hiding. We deal with a church that really isn’t perfect and really doesn’t have all the answers. We deal with a world that really needs Good News in real ways. We deal with a world that really needs to hear and encounter real grace and real mercy. To me, that’s a whole lot better than what the bubble offered. That’s real.