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"Tony Robinson is one of the most active church leaders in the United States, greatly in demand as he teaches congregations and denominations about church life. His work has a deep theological underpinning, which many congregational-development gurus don't have."

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author of The Gospel and the New York Times and And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament

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Posted September 26, 2016:


I did an event in Idaho last weekend for teams from about a dozen Presbyterian churches. Went well — at least I thought so.

Often when doing this kind of an event I find myself processing the experience — what I’ve said, what others have said — over night, either in semi-sleep or in dreams.

Not sure which state of semi-consciousness I was in when the message came in bold letters: SURVIVAL IS NOT THE POINT. By survival I’m talking about individual congregations survival. I went on to say, “Some of you will go down, but at least go down fighting. Go down with your colors flying.”

When we make survival the goal we contradict the teaching of Jesus who said, “Whoever seeks to save their own life will lose it; whoever loses their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.” This wonderful and terrible paradox is that in desperately holding on, in trying to save ourselves, we are lost; by losing ourselves in love of God and the gospel, we discover life.

When congregations turn saving themselves or their survival into the goal (“we need more members to make the budget!”) they become anxious and timid, undermining their witness to the gospel. If, on the other hand, congregations don’t worry so much about outcomes but seek to live boldly in response to the gospel, they tend to be fun, appealing, and engaging. They may even end up moving beyond surviving to thriving.

Over at What’s Tony Thinking? I cite an article titled, “Dear Church, Why Are People Leaving You Really.” The author challenges congregations to stop blaming outside forces for their struggles and take a look at themselves. He challenges congregations to “Show us that your love and your God are real.” It isn’t easy to thrive as a liberal church these days, but neither is it impossible.

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