A close friend of mine over the past six months has said several times, “It might feel like things are unraveling, but at least we know who holds the string.” The first time I heard it I didn't really get what he was trying to say. I understood he was bringing comfort to churches and leaders who feel like their ministries, churches, and whole worlds were falling apart around them. So on some level I understood, but I didn't really get it until I thought about it in another way.
My wife is an excellent crafter. She loves to use cool tools to make things. Her greatest gift lies in knitting. By working with yarn and needles she is able to create just about anything she sets her mind toward. However, there are moments in some of her projects that things don’t look quite right and she has a couple options. The first is to “frog” the whole thing, just pull on the end of the string until she is back to the casting on point. The second option is to “tear back” to a spot where the stitches are correct and move on from there. There is a strange third option as well. Sometimes she really likes a particular yarn for its color or texture. She has made it into a scarf or bag and used it as such for some time, then one day decides, “I think I want that to be socks!” What is she to do? She simply finds the end, unravels the existing completed project that has served its purpose, sometimes even years, as something else and begins to turn it into something completely new.
Jeremiah 18:4-7 states, “The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” NRSV
This verse is beautiful and really speaks of a different medium than knitting. A potter has piece of clay that he was working with and the project didn't turn out quite right, so he starts again to create what seemed good to him. The same is true with my wife’s knitting. If a piece of project is not quite right she re-works it until she is satisfied. But my favorite image is when she takes something that has already served a wonderful purpose, and re-works it into something completely new with the same yarn.
I think the North American Church is in a cross roads of sorts. I feel that we are in the midst of a significant shift. It feels like the world is unraveling. The North American Church has served a great purpose and function in a particular model for the past fifty to seventy-five years, now that world is unraveling. The world of mega churches, attractional worship events, large conferences, denominationalism, ceo pastors, rule makers, boundary setters, and institutional loyalty is becoming less influential. But here is the hope, much like the clay and the yarn, the same material is going to be used for a new thing. The church will go on, God’s people will still be the church, but we will just look different.
We will be reworked into another vessel that seems good to Him.
We had a good run as scarves, now God is making us into something new.
It will be painful and slow. We were really good at being scarves. All our programs, buildings, and structures are designed to lead scarf people. But it is time to allow this world to unravel and become something new. I don’t know what God is making us into just yet. I am not sure anyone does and if they claim to, you might consider tuning them out. I think it might have something to do with “missional church” concepts, asset/gift based ministry, listening to others better, and a return to parish ministry images, but I could be very wrong. Because crossroads rarely reveal the road ahead as much as options for a new destinations. We are in a place of adaptive challenges that require all new skills for all new issues. The key will be to love God and love others. We will need to have strong theological centers founded on scripture and soft edges that welcome all sorts of new people and ideas.
The world we were familiar with might be unraveling, but at least we know who holds the string. I believe God just might be the one pulling on the string to cause the unraveling so he can make something new with the same yarn.