Congregations today exist in an in-between, or liminal, time. The customary answers about what it means to be and do church and strategies for renewal based on those answers no longer work. But there is no certainty about the new answers. It is a time of searching—of letting go of the old and experimenting with the new. This means facing the reality of death, which may come as institutions die or as established ways are abandoned. This book addresses this reality while maintaining a constant focus on the Christian promise of resurrection. It offers three images that recognize the differing contexts of congregations and help them shape their future as they seek to discern God’s work in their midst. Congregations shaped by each of the three images (remembering, letting go, and resurrecting) have the potential to faithfully engage in God’s work in their setting. For each of the three there are suggestions for helping a congregation move toward an even more faithful expression of the image. The book includes Bible studies and other resources that congregations will find helpful in this process. Some congregations may continue in traditional ways, while others seek a new way of being church. But all can join in God’s work in their time and place with a new and deeper understanding of the ministry that is theirs. This book helps them do that. Because a different kind of leadership is needed the book offers an approach to leadership that is grounded in a spiritual process of inward reflection and outward involvement.
Jeffrey D. Jones is the author of a number of books on congregational life and leadership, including: Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple-Forming Congregations (Alban) and Facing Decline, Finding Hope (Rowman and Littlefield). He has served as the pastor of three churches, the interim pastor of two churches, and twice as a national staff person for the American Baptist Board of Educational Ministries. He retired as the Director of Ministerial Studies and Associate Professor of Ministerial Leadership from Andover Newton in 2015.
David Fredrickson is a native Coloradan. He has served as the Assistant Rector to Trinity Church in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, Rector to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Wareham, Massachusetts, Rector to Christ Church Parish in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and is currently the Priest-in-Charge to Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester Center, Vermont.
How to Read This Book
Final Thoughts Before We Begin
Chapter 1 – A Reality Check: Living in the In-Between
A New Thing
The End of Christendom
The Parable of the Sower
An In-Between Time
Chapter 2 – Possibilities for the Future: Discerning an Image of the Congregation
Discerning the Right Thing
When the Images Combine
Remembering – Main Street Church
Letting Go – Trinity Church
Resurrecting – Faith Church
The Inevitability of Loss
Chapter 3 – Remembering: A New Way of Seeing What Was
Chapter 4 – Letting Go: Insights from Hospice
Chapter 5 – Resurrecting: Spirituality and Ethics Revisited
The Parable of the Yeast
A Tiny Part of the Whole
A Transforming/Corrupting Presence
A Time-Consuming Process of Change
The Examen Prayer
The Rule of Life
Claiming the Ethic of Jesus
Chapter 6 – A New Model of Leadership: Inwardly Directed and Outwardly Focused
A New Model of Leadership
Envision the Productive Community
Embrace the Hypocritical Self
Embody a Vision of the New Community
Disturb the System
Surrender to the Emergent Process
Entice Through Moral Power
Strength, Sensitivity and Faith
About the Authors
I'm deeply grateful for the deep and balanced wisdom Jeffrey Jones brings to all his work in helping church leaders navigate in challenging times. If you're an ordained or lay Christian leader, you can count on Jeff and Dave's guidance to be both practically relevant and spiritually rich.
Deeply rooted in biblical references, this new book for religious leaders in this post-modern world could serve as a catalyst in a church to face a new future. One strong feature is inviting the reader to reflect on one’s own blind spots and biases that contribute to the resistance for change. Besides bravely acknowledging today’s challenges, Jones and Fredrickson in the end offer ways to become more aware of reality such as the Examen Prayer, spiritual direction and the Quaker clearness. For the Christian faith to continue, trusting in God’s plan along with a new model of leaders who are “inwardly directed and outwardly focused” may give us hope.
Where is the primary focus of your congregation? Is it in the past, present, or future? Being Church in Liminal Time guides congregations through a discernment process, providing provocative questions to assess their capacity for, “Remembering, Letting Go, and Resurrecting.” This is a question that every congregation in the U.S. should be asking themselves.
To lead a faith community through uncertainty, especially in settings unready to accept that something is dying, requires updated skills and knowledge. Jones and Fredrickson provide guidance through both instruction and modeling. They look that which is over straight in the face and address what some find too scary to imagine. They do so while never losing hope that, through God’s resurrecting love, something new is seeking to be born.
The Church’s need to embrace brave change is clear – but how? Technical changes called forth by the pandemic have not addressed the deeper transformation required. The authors do not offer us a book full of strategies; rather, as in the parables of Jesus, we are presented with stories and fundamental images, deep reflection upon which can offer us a path forward towards the resurrection which is our hope.
In and through this book Jeffrey Jones and David Fredrickson offer the Christian churches a bountiful gift. Certainly, it is my hope that it will be seen and received in this way for what they put forward here is nothing less than a careful and honest assessment of the current Church landscape and the presentation of three guiding images and a new model of leadership that could redirect congregational life in bold new ways in this seemingly liminal time. I highly recommend this book to all who still care about the present state and potential future of the Christian churches.
Remarkable!! Jones and Fredrickson have fashioned a work that profoundly declares positive alternatives to the continued decline of the church in this liminal time. It brilliantly holds discordance within the faithfulness of God, reminding us that God is still alive, moving among the people and communities, offering resources and horizons sufficient for our needs. The book is off the charts.
Dave Fredrickson and Jeff Jones have written an insightful book about the church in America today. This is a backdrop for my story and that of many others I meet. I left a church that had nurtured me and prepared me to walk out the door, a church where I had served as a Sunday school teacher, youth group leader, and lay leader. I crossed the road, not far, but a world away from my small suburban church, a church more “Remembering” what had once been. I went to the inner city and became part of an Urban Youth Ministry in one of the poorest and most violent cities in America. I call it my church today, twenty years later, no longer angry at the Church, I now meet the most amazing people who serve alongside me and most all come from the Church “Resurrecting.”
Reading motivational books can make a huge difference in how one sees him or herself and the world around them. I was struck by the personal inner focus on the three images of remembering, letting go, and resurrecting. The imagery of a loved one journeying through hospice care and the church’s strategic planning response through its membership decline stage helped me to appreciate the relevancy of this book. It draws you toward proactive assimilation and forces the reader to examine how to do Christ’s commission inwardly and outwardly, with precision, at the same time. I strongly encourage this book for ecumenical and Christian small group discussion.