A recent associated press story in my local newspaper read: “Most Americans Distrust Government.” It caught my attention as I went on to read that 80% of Americans say “they can’t and have little faith that the massive federal bureaucracy can solve the nation’s ills.”
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary a bureaucracy is
1. a body of non-elective government officials b : an administrative policy-making group
2. government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority
3. a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation
When we look at this definition we are quick to realize that a bureaucracy cannot solve anything, it can only shed some light on our communal situation. In fact the original definition has now become synonymous, not with a body of non-elected officials or an administrative policy making group, but with all that is wrong with institutions. The label itself feeds the so called “distrust” that people have against governments and other institutions. It speaks of a disembodied entity that makes decisions without taking into consideration the reality of the people it serves.
I’ve heard the church called a bureaucracy many times and I wonder why? I’ve been guilty of speaking of the church as if it was this disembodied entity that had nothing to do with me. I believe this way of thinking allows me to be critical without having to commit to be part of the solution.
So what is our role as members of the baptized community? Our role as the Church? We are a body of non-elected, but chosen and sealed people, who have been empowered by the Spirit to be about the transformation of all of creation.
I understand the frustration, our frustration, that things are not going the way that they should, that our love ones are struggling, that there seems to be gridlock in decision making. Leadership is difficult and we need leadership in the church. We need leadership at all levels: from our laypersons, from our pastors, and from our judicatory leaders. Change is not going to happen automatically and is not going to happen overnight but is desperately needed.
The lack of leadership might explain why so many are frustrated, angry, disappointed and hopeless. In the midst of the tension filled environment the church proclaims that there is hope, that we are not hopeless, that communities can gather and make new, that communities can gather and transform, that we can make a difference in the world! All of us can, in small ways, make a difference in our own place.
Our effectiveness in this mission will only be possible if we trust. We must trust that the Spirit is guiding us, trust that we are in this together, trust that in the midst of disagreement we will keep the mission at the forefront.
The truth is that we have been struggling as a church. The same day that I read this article on my local newspaper I received the latest numbers on our shrinking denomination. As I walked back to my church I started thinking about what all this means for the people of God in this particular community.
I believe it means that the church is needed more than ever! That we need to carry our message with integrity, transparency, and a constant desire to grow in holiness of heart and life. It also means that we call each other to faithful, Christlike dialogue no matter the circumstances. We need to stop blaming, stop looking at some “other” and start realizing that we are the people, God’s people, we are the ones who have been called, and empowered to be prophetic voices and faithful workers that make a positive difference in the world!