Today we are talking about the future.
The topic "future" is very tempting for speakers because one can colourfully imagine what is to come, one can speculate, spin around and if one does it well, the audience will also be very impressed and perhaps even applaud.
But the speaker will only very rarely run the risk that what he says will have to be measured against the coming reality. By the time the future arrives, everyone will have forgotten what was said.
I will avoid predictions today, especially those concerning the future.
But we have nevertheless chosen as the theme for this service "Church in the Future, Future of the Church".
Some people wonder what will become of the churches. Church resignations, at least in the large churches, remain high and are partly fuelled by unresolved scandals and covered-up crimes - e.g. child abuse by individual priests.
You realise pretty quickly with this topic that you can only talk badly about the future if you block out the past and don't face up to it.
There is this nasty word "Nestbeschmutzer", which is actually wrong. A "fouler of the nest" is not the one who soils the nest with his evil deeds, but the one who points out the dirt. So it is actually a wrong, bad word.
To be fair, however, it must be made clear that there are different churches and congregations that have different traditions and also a different past. And each church and also each individual congregation must of course face up to its own past and, if there are skeletons in the closet, admit to them and come to terms with them.
However, quite a few people in our country reject church across the board and welcome the general shrinking of membership in the large churches.
The question of meaning
So will the Christian church disappear in the future?
I don't think so, but that would be a prognosis concerning the future, and I wanted to avoid that today.
In my view, the church has a future if it also has a meaning in the future.
You may have heard about the city church in Wittenberg, where a very offensive, anti-Semitic invective has been hanging for 700 years. There was a discussion about what should be done with it and a court decided that this anti-Semitic picture could stay up and a plaque next to it explains the background.
I ask myself, what is this church building for? If it is a kind of museum, a place of interest, then it would make sense to leave this disgraceful picture up, with explanations, because one has to face up to one's history, I think.
If the church building is there to serve the church as a tool for proclaiming the good news, then the picture should actually be taken down. It then belongs in a museum where the past is documented and reappraised.
What is the purpose of a church building? What is the purpose of church?
How did it all begin in the first place? In the Bible, in Acts 2, it is described as beginning in Jerusalem. There was the miracle of Pentecost. Those who were travelling with Jesus were suddenly enabled to speak in other languages. That doesn't just sound strange to people today, even back then quite a few thought that the apostles must have been drunk.
The apostle Peter then gave a speech about Jesus Christ and the listeners were really affected and then asked what they should do now.
To this Peter replied (Acts 2:38,39; NEÜ):
It starts with one personally: "Change your attitude", you can also translate that as "Turn around". And then it speaks of the forgiveness of sins, connected with the sign of baptism, and of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And last but not least, it is emphasised that God calls people.
So church doesn't just seem to work in the way that someone thinks, "I want to get involved, so I'll join the church."
It starts with an attitude change, a kind of repentance, with the awareness that you need forgiveness from God.
I'm sure each of us is a unique, valuable human being, a positive one-off and I mean that, I'm really convinced of that.
But let's not fool ourselves: Often enough, this is not reflected in our thoughts, words and actions. Our actions and words hurt others from time to time, unintentionally or even intentionally, we often have bad thoughts, etc. Unfortunately, this is deeply human.
And the church is made up of people who are willing to become aware of their mistakes and sin and set out on the path of change. And God goes along, God promises forgiveness in Jesus Christ and accompaniment and strength.
In addition, God somehow, quite individually, calls people to also set out on this path.
On the way
What is so special about this journey that quite a few Christians, including myself, have set out on? A side fact is that in the early days, the Christian faith was often called a "journey". One is on the way with God.
You encounter problems, smaller and bigger ones, sometimes you are afraid, often enough you feel overwhelmed, but you almost never lose hope and often enough life is really beautiful.
But I am not alone, then I realise that Jesus walks with me. I can pour out my heart to him, I actually find answers in the Bible. And when it's really good, I thank God for it.
That may sound strange to some ears, but I have experienced it that way, with ups and downs for over 40 years.
It's not about self-optimisation, it's about being open, listening, also acknowledging mistakes and asking for forgiveness from God and man, and if necessary.
However, it is a problem when a Christian loses this attitude from the beginning, this awareness that with God's help one needs change. Then a Christian, if he thinks he is really good, can mutate into a self-righteous puke. But even from such an attitude one can turn back again.
We are on the way between fear and hope, but the hope in Jesus Christ carries us through. We are always learning, never have to be perfect and always realise that God is with us.
Future of the Church?And what does this have to do with the future of the Church?
I believe that the Church only has a future if the people in it do not lose this beginning, this attitude of beginning with God.
If the church is only an association, perhaps a non-profit association, that does various things, perhaps also good things, then I think it will disappear at some point. Then the churches will become museums and the people who want to get involved will go to organisations that work on exactly the purpose they want.
But when people start with God, realise that they need change and forgiveness and set out on the path with Jesus, then the church has a future.
And this path will also change a person and this change can of course lead to further commitment, where things become important to you.
In our congregation we are currently thinking a lot about what the church or congregation should look like in the future. What is contemporary and what is not, what style of worship makes sense, etc. These are all important thoughts. And we are by no means the only ones. Many Christian churches and congregations are currently working on such issues.
But if the basis, the beginning, is not right, then why have a church? Somehow the special sense of a church is missing and what is to become of it then?