Conspiratorial thinking has a cousin called “Crisis Thinking.” The former exploits loose correlations between people and events to hide from meaningful work, while the latter uses those same correlations to justify feverish activity that is also, in the end, hiding from meaningful work.
Example: a church in my former presbytery wanted to overture the General Assembly in 2010 that discussion of changes to ordination standards to include openly gay men and women should cease until the church had made a thorough study of the relationship between that discussion and losses in congregational membership.
We should do two things when we feel like we’re facing a crisis. First, we should make sure that its’ not simply a crisis for us. That is, we should check our panic with peers and colleagues, especially ones who don’t look like us and live where we live. Losses in congregational membership across the PC(USA) feel like a crisis to those reared in a homogeneous denomination led mostly by white men, but those same losses feel very different (I imagine) to the women and racial and ethnic minorities who are now sharing leadership in a smaller church that used to exclude them when it was bigger.
Second, a perceived crisis is an opportunity to find the soul of our work. It is entirely possible that declining membership statistics, for example, point to a failure on our part to do work that matters, to forge authentic and caring connections with neighbors, to care for the poor, and to stand up for the truth. We shouldn’t dodge that possibility. It is entirely possible, though, that membership losses persist in the face of sustained soulful church leadership, and that crisis thinking will only prompt us to gut our work of its soul for the sake of something cosmetic and transitory.
The work of church leadership today is to make space for honest connection between strained and fearful people and between those people and God. Calling the conditions of the day a “Crisis” doesn’t change that.