Our churches: Originals or old copies?
Figuring out who we are as times change
By Ayana Teter
Recently, I was invited to share my thoughts on the “big-picture” view of my church. I had the honor of sharing in a panel with a group of Presbyterian pastors from the Middle East. As Christians they were the minority in their national culture. As Presbyterians they were the minority among their Christian brothers and sisters. As such, they had to be intentional about nurturing the faith in their youth and cultivating character in their families and making disciples who could be the salt and light in their communities. And, though I have no first-hand experience of the lives they live, I was struck by the beauty and challenges they faced in their journey of faith.
As I prepared to answer the same questions, the strangest image popped into my mind. It was the image of a flier. You see, when I was a kid, if you wanted to get a group of people together you would make a flier. And, then you would stick it up on a wall for something like a school pep rally or weekend party in the hopes of spreading the word and inviting others.
But, since that was the day before digital social media it would always take a little creative work to make the fliers. You would have to get your most artistic friend to draw a picture, then you would add the pertinent details with your best hand lettering, and then you would have to charm your way into the high-school office so that you could make the photocopies that you intended to plaster over every wall and pole.
And, then after all that, should you have the occasion to need a few more copies, you would go and pull down the best looking flier and head back to the copier to make more. But, a strange thing would always happen when you made copies of a copy on those old machines. The images would get darker and more obscure with each replication. The photographs would lose their detail and the drawings would become indecipherable so that, eventually, the once-stunning-flier was no longer stunning and the invitation was hard to make out.
As I considered this, I wondered if this was how some of our churches looked today. For, in contrast to our siblings in the Middle East, we have been part of the dominant culture for so long that maybe the communities we inhabit are having trouble making out our original invitation. And maybe we are having trouble making out the invitation because we have forgotten the need to explain our rich theological history and tradition and faith and instead relied upon making copies of a copy of a copy to try to invite them. But, just as those copied fliers I had once used in my youth lost their detail, so too our “copied” faith loses its power when we don’t go back to the original Author and Creator.
This is both a challenge and opportunity for us to rediscover why we meet in our local churches. Why do we do what we do? Why do we proclaim the name of Jesus? Why we are invited to follow Him? These are questions that can challenge us because, culturally, we’ve not had to answer them for quite a while. But, at the same time, they are exciting questions to ask because they invite us to find new ways to tell an old story…new ways to get back to the original so that we can see the beautiful detail of the Artist…and new ways to be intentional in our own journey of faith so that we’re no longer making copies of copies, but purposefully inviting others to come and know the One who will give them rest.
Reverend Ayana Teter is Associate Minister for Outreach for Pittsburgh Presbytery, and serves as contact for the South and West branch churches. She is one of the leaders of the Unglued Church Project.