One morning on my drive into work, I was in traffic, on the interstate, that was inching along—three lanes in each direction, barely moving. I heard a siren in the distance, I looked in my rear-view mirror, I could not see lights flashing and I noticed that no one was moving; I was in the middle lane. I felt a bit stuck. I could hear the sirens getting closer, I still could not see flashing lights or fast-moving vehicles, everything was stopped. I continued to look for the source of the sound, it was getting closer; then, in the distance behind me, finally in view in my mirror, I saw the blue lights of a state trooper. Moving only a bit faster than inching along, the trooper was making the way forward in the emergency lane, I was grateful that the driver of the vehicle who had just used that lane to get to the next exit was out of the way. As I sat in traffic, I wondered if I was hearing things, no one was moving! Were people ignoring the sirens? Could they not hear the sirens? Sirens are a warning sound. A warning sound to pay attention, to get out of the way. If we do not heed the warning, what is or are the results?
Stuck in traffic, I reflected on my day ahead—I would be meeting with members of a congregation that is discerning their future and one of their very real options is to dissolve. I began to wonder about the sirens they may have heard at times in their past—how long do we hear sirens before we get used to them and stop looking for the source? How long do we feel stuck before we try to move or make a difference? How long is too long? And, what are the sirens? What are the warning signs?
There are a few studies and many opinions on the warning signs of a dying church, just do a quick web-search and you can see articles and blogs listing anywhere from 5 – 20 warning signs or symptoms of a dying church. It is not hard to think of some of the items on the lists. However, I have begun to think the question of which we need to wrestle is—What is keeping us from living fully into who God calls us to be? I wonder if the sirens begin when we ignore that question. I wonder about the situations that cause us not to think about that question—things are going well, things are not going well, and/or things are just going. Personally, when I am engaged with this question, my life has more purpose and meaning, I live more fully into who I am, into who God calls me to be. In my congregation, it is the same—when we engage this question, we live more fully into who God calls us to be as a congregation. Letting go of the question or not being conscious of the question may be the beginning of the sirens.
What is keeping us from living fully into who God calls us to be? May this question be with you as you embrace the journey ahead.