StoryBoard: Moving Forward in God’s Story
Heather Roth Johnson – Pastoral Intern, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Minneapolis MN
I have been in ministry for almost 20 years. My call has taken me to 3 different continents, where I have learned, worked and preached in 4 different languages. From camp counselor to children, youth and family ministry, from missionary to pastoral intern, my work has been centered on sharing God’s love with God’s people.
But sometimes I struggle in this work, especially of late. It seems like wherever I go, whether it is to a conference with colleagues or to a class with students, I encounter the buzzword of “church decline.” It’s a real “debbie downer” comment for someone who is studying to be a pastor.
Yes, it’s true that statistically giving and attendance is down. But, guess what? There is good news. God is not dead, which means we are not dead. God is alive, which means we are alive. And if we are alive, God is in us, with us and for us, the church. Our attitude then needs to shift from church death to church change.
To respond to this shift, I decided to start a blog for my internship project entitled, “Storyboard: Moving Forward in God’s Story.” My post to do two things: One, I share some of my own material and stories related to church change or resources. Two, I interview church workers, pastors, and congregations who are doing new things to reach new people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In my interview process, I ask three things:
- Name one ministry that the church is doing that needs to be shared.
- Why this ministry is important to the church inside and outside the walls?
- What Bible story undergirds this ministry?
What I have learned in this process is that there are churches across the USA that are doing amazing things by embracing change. They are collaborating with schools, churches, food banks, police, and non-profits. They are using their buildings differently by reconfiguring the space to work with the homeless. One church even started a laundromat! Some are starting after school programs for latchkey kids, free community meals, or even a food truck ministry. Others are providing English classes for local immigrants. And the list goes on!
The shift here is that these churches are not waiting for people to walk through the church doors. But, instead, these churches are opening the doors, getting out into their neighborhoods, and encountering God in new places. Within 5 months of starting this blog, I had over 25,000 hits. This tells me that congregations are looking for ways to be encouraged, new ideas to try, and what it means to be the church today.
Why does this ministry or blog matter? It matters because of what the prophet Isaiah told God’s people many years ago. He said this about God, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19).
This is what God does best – to create things anew. God never stops creating a new thing within us, the church. Our role is to embrace the change and to help others step out of their comfort zone and into this new thing that God is doing. With that, we need use better language. To move away from saying that “the church is not dying” but to what is really happening that “the church is just changing.” Change is what has happened to the church for the last 2,000 years.