Hopeful Church

Your church is what you believe it to be

Are you part of a hopeful church?

by N. Graham Standish


I’m changing paths: From a “Wisdom Journey” to a “Hopeful Church.”

For the past two years I’ve been writing a blog on spiritual wisdom.  I’ve really enjoyed doing it because it’s allowed me to share in a more modern way insights from a life of studying the insights of Christian sages.

Still, I’ve had a greater passion for church. Actually, it’s an extension of my passion for understanding spiritual wisdom. My passion is for building on that wisdom to help pastors become more spiritually aware yet pragmatically grounded so that they can lead healthier and more hopeful churches.

I’ve been consumed by the pursuit of spiritually healthy leadership for 22 years as pastor of a healthy, growing church. I’ve remained consumed with it in my new vocation, which includes working with pastors as a spiritual director and coach to help them become more aware and effective. In my new blog I want to share the fruits of my pursuits.

So are you part of a “Hopeful Church”?

The list of hopeful churches seems to shrink every year (not that anyone’s actually keeping a list). Fewer and fewer pastors, and fewer and fewer churches, are ministering hopefully. It’s becoming easier to succumb to discouragement, depression, and despair about our congregations.

A huge topic in the news in recent years has been the dramatic rise of the nones—those who say they have no religious affiliation. Closely associated are those who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” What are we religious folks supposed to do when more and more people prefer nothing or not us? The news is discouraging, depressing, and sometimes despairing.

There’s a way forward, but it’s first step begins by looking backwards. As the church grew in the first century, no one was actively seeking the church. Especially among the Gentiles, many were either practically nones, or spiritual and only marginally religious. They periodically sacrificed at a temple, performed their required yearly obeisance to the emperor, or sought the divination of an oracle. Much of Judaism was spread out and struggling after the destruction of the Temple and most of Jerusalem in 70 AD. No one was seeking the church, yet it grew and thrived. Why? The early church offered hope to people seeking solace and spirit. Much of the deep wisdom of the past can help us to build hopeful churches for the future.

What I hope to explore are practical ideas rooted in modern leadership and spiritual tradition that can help us to find hope for our congregations.

So let me leave you this month with a hopeful idea that a pastor said to me years ago: If you believe your church is the greatest church in the world, it may not be yet, but it will be. What you believe your church is becomes what the church becomes. So, if we’re struggling in our church, is it really because the church needs to change or because we need to change how we see our church?

May God’s light lead your way!

The Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish is the executive director of Samaritan Counseling Center in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.