Two Reasons the Next Thing You Do Probably Won’t Kill Your Congregation

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By Derek Penwell

I sometimes feel as though I couldn’t take one more crisis. At those times I feel like if I get one more phone call telling me something is going wrong with one of my kids at school, or with a disgruntled parishioner, or the checking account is unexpectedly overdrawn that I’ll … I don’t know. I guess I feel like I won’t be able to withstand another thing.

The only thing I can think to call it is “feeling thin”—stretched to the point of breaking.

When I feel thin, the whole world seems to conspire against me. I can’t get out of the house on time to get to work or take the kids to school. I can’t find socks in a house when I know I have at least thirty pairs. The oil light flashes. The dog develops strange looking spots. I forget to schedule a meeting I said I’d be responsible for.

Feeling thin leaves me convinced that I have no business owning a house or a car, that I’m in way over my head as a parent, and that I’m only temporarily fooling people at my job into thinking that I know what I’m doing—but a day of reckoning is coming soon. That’s right. The jig will be up shortly, and everybody will finally see me for the fraud that, in my worst moments, I fear that I am. I think about how old I am, and how many more years I can reasonably hope to stick around, and I wonder if I can make it to the finish line without coming undone.

Feeling thin.

Ever feel like that?

Not enough substance to endure even one more thing. The proverbial straw dangles above the camel’s already absurdly laden back.

Congregations in decline often manifest that same sense of fragility—like they’re just one bad offering away from having to pack it in. Conflict. Lack of money. Regret over the young family who just couldn’t hang on any longer without a Sunday School class for youngest. The new breed pitted against the old guard. A foreboding sense that the future holds no friendly harbors.

And here’s the problem: Feeling thin makes congregations risk averse.

“Oh, no, we couldn’t possibly … I mean, we might have tried that back in ‘62, but now … Think about what might happen if something goes wrong … We’d never survive another failure … “

Two thoughts immediately spring to mind:

  1. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, the risk of failure may be exactly what a congregation that feels thin needs. Life (individual or communal) is always an exercise in negotiating the potential hazards of risk vs. reward. Interesting lives are rarely lived in 8’x8’ safe rooms, fortified against the encroachment of every imagined danger. Lives that inspire awe and respect are lives that, when faced with fragility, opt to take the chance that failure is almost never worse than just staying at home with your cats and a copy of the Reader’s Digest. So do something. I’m not saying be reckless and stupid. But that’s the very nature of the problem, isn’t it? If you’re feeling thin, almost everything feels reckless and stupid. Take a chance. And if you fail …
  2. It almost never kills you. We’re, all of us, more resilient than we’re apt to give ourselves credit for. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt thin, but I can tell you how many times I’ve come completely undone: zero. I’m still here.

You’re still here. None of us knows for how long. Fight through the feeling and do something interesting … the cats and the Reader’s Digest will always be there.

via Articles – [D]mergent

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , by Derek Penwell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Derek Penwell

Derek Penwell is an author, editor, speaker, and activist. He is the senior minister of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and a former lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities. He has a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Louisville. He is the author of The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World, from Chalice Press, about how mainline denominations can avoid despair in an emerging world. He currently edits a blog on emergence Christianity,, and blogs at his own site at

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