As I’ve been reflecting on the Call to Action report, especially in light of John Meunier’s very good questions about the disconnect between the methodology from the recommendations, and Neil Alexander’s suggestions that nothing in the report is to be seen as a “one size fits all” means of engendering vitality in the church, I continue to be drawn to the phrase I mentioned in an earlier post which should have in fact been the center of the entire report . . . the description of church vitality as “…the dynamic, forward leaning, state of engagement that connects people to God, each other, and the world in profound ways.” That statement has begun to guide my own sense of task in leading the 100 year old, traditional congregation that has experienced decline that I have been appointed to serve. It seems to be that deconstructing this description can in fact offer great insight into the true drivers of vitality that go far beyond what the research data can offer.
Church vitality, the writers tell us, is first (and maybe foremost) dynamic. “Dynamic” is a word we toss around quite a bit, but without often thinking through it’s meaning. At the very root, going back to the earliest Greek usage, the word dynamic has been used to talk about power and energy. It represents a force that moves things and people forward, energizing them for ministry and empowering them to walk in the way of Jesus. The early inventors of our electrical distribution system named their generators “dynamos” understanding that these were the sources of power for the entire system. And in a church, dynamism is the power which infuses every program, every worship service, every interaction with meaning, and purpose. In vital/dynamic churches, the normal practices of ministry are not seen a obligations or duties, but rather opportunities to be energized by one another’s experiences of God and passion for seeing God’s work carried out in the world.
Dynamic has another connotation as well. To talk about a system as dynamic is to know that it is flexible and open to change. Dynamic organizations or things are not static, but always on the move, adapting to the circumstances around them rather than holding on too tight to the “normal” state of being.
As I have said before, my experience of vital churches is that they are filled with an indefinable energy that is infectious to all involved. These congregations are filled with a power that drives participants to move beyond their own self interest toward fulfilling a common mission and purpose. This energy would be worth millions if it could be bottled and sold at the local Cokesbury store, but the fact is that it is unique to each specific community, based in their common story, their common understanding of Christ, and an absolute belief that God is indeed at work in their midst in that place.
As I’ve been writing this, I have gotten my fingers crossed and written that the church should be dymanic. Unfortunately, this may not be as crazy as we might think, because I think some pastors (myself included) think that we can create dynamic energy in a congregation through being loud, outgoing, and generally manic. Certainly the congregation is formed by the energy of the pastor, and our lack of vital churches may indeed be connected to leaders who are far from energized by the work of ministry. But artificially attempting to create energy simply by being manic rarely works. It only leads to exhaustion, and a sense that we aren’t being completely honest with ourselves. True dynamic energy arises naturally as God works in our midst and as we begin to catch a vision for something more.
What do you think? How would you define the energy of the vital congregations you have experienced in your life? Are there steps that can be taken to engender energy and passion in a congregation that has spent more time being listless and apathetic than dynamic? What insights do you have on the connection between dynamism and vitality?