So yesterday at the Summoned to Lead conference, we did a short panel discussion right after the morning break, leading up to lunchtime. Let me set the stage by saying that we had no warning of what was coming — we agreed to sit on a panel but didn’t know when (or if) it would take place or what exactly the format or subject matter would be.

So after the morning break I was just sitting down at our table with a fresh cup of coffee and a brownie when I saw Gerry heading our way with wireless microphones in hand. “Put these on,” he told Jamie and I, as Leonard Sweet was telling the group something about a panel or forum or something for this session — I missed what he said as we were getting ourselves to the front and set up. We got started without further introduction, and after a few introductory comments about “inherited church” (a better term than traditional or institutional church, actually), a question was posed to us: What do you think the future looks like for the inherited church? — or something to this effect. Okay, I’m seriously on-the-spot with this one, and as it turns out I’m going to lead off. I know that Gerry can affirm the inherited church model at least somewhat, and Jamie can beg off to some extent by saying he’s part of a parachurch organization, but here’s me the ecclesiastical vagrant, somewhat stuck. The audience? 150 pastors and leaders, about 70% Pentecostal but basically everyone is not just attending an “inherited” form of church, they’re leading in one. What would you say?

Here’s what I said, being on the spot and having to think fast. Leonard Sweet had been talking about metaphors, so I said I’d answer with a metaphor. “How many of you,” I asked, “have clothes in your closet at home that have been there long enough that they’re coming back in style?” I told them I thought that the inherited church faced a future that would be much like this… further decline ahead, but not to be written off because something of a resurgence probably awaits. I think I may have also said something about struggling for relevance, I don’t recall.

Thinking about this metaphor afterward, I think I want to suggest that if this really is the future for the inherited church, it seems to me that a remnant of this model will always hang around until people return to it, but until then I might think twice about how much time, energy, and money I would want to invest into it. Of course, I’m also second-guessing the metaphor a little, maybe that’s natural.

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