Despite the moniker I continually hear in church spaces, “that ‘the young people’ are good with technology,” I’m not.
In all actuality, I’m probably quite bad, but thanks to YouTube I just happen to know slightly more than my peers and some of the elderly members of my congregation.
Confession #1 – I’ve never heard of Zoom prior to April of 2020.
Confession #2 – Being young has not made me a social media expert; and
Confession #3 – I actually enjoy seeing people face to face too.
When I got the news I would be serving as the Senior Pastor of Historic Trinity AME Church in Manning, SC – the coolest church in the universe where services start at 10:00 AM and all are welcome to attend – I was overjoyed.
Like many congregations in rural America, decreased job opportunities had led to a drain of resources, decline in population, and a deficit in “the young people.”
For the parishioners the idea of a young pastor was refreshing because they hoped my youthful charisma and charming good luck might be able to galvanize a new generation of believers who had become turned off by the church.
I guess these would be the so-called “millennials” my parishioners wanted me to help them understand how they could be “spiritual but not religious.”
But can you blame them?
I mean really, can you?
Surveying the community I was and reflecting on the congregation I was coming from I must admit I felt a lot more like my parishioners young adult grandchildren then they perhaps thought.
Church was not my everything but God definitely is.
Church was not the center of my social existence (and neither did I want it to be) but nonetheless is an integral part of life.
As a congregation navigating these issues, we were doing good until things just went virtual.
Suddenly, the questions about “How can you love God but hate church” became congested in the milieu of “remember to mute yourself if you’re not talking” and calls in the middle of bible study asking me to stop teaching and help Sis. So-and-so connect because she’s having tech difficulties.
Transformed into the resident tech expert in a congregation with a staff of just me-myself-and-I, overwhelmed is an understatement.
Despite brave parishioners courageously jumping into help when seeing me inundated, progress stalled, rejuvenation flickered out, and the optimism that began my pastoral journey is gone.
We no longer strategize about what a bright future looks like.
We no longer dream of innovative ways to reach people for Christ.
Instead, we’ve fallen into two camps: (1) those who agree we’re dying and want to restructure, possibly merging with another congregation, and (2) those who know we’re dying and just want us to die gracefully.
I’m 31-years-old and I never thought I would pastor a dying church. (I was 29-years-old when I arrived at the congregation in November 2019.)
I sometimes feel if the pandemic had not hit, and we stayed on the trajectory we were on, our congregation’s story might be different. However, that’s not what happened.
Instead, I’m left just clinging to Jesus’ words “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all other things shall be added unto you” (St. Matthew 6:33).
“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” – 2 Corinthians 5:1 KJV