By Amanda Pine, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
My mother always reminds me that my favorite book as a child was Henny Penny, which is more commonly known in the United States as Chicken Little. It is a folk story about a paranoid chicken who believes that the world is coming to an end after an acorn falls on her head. Henny Penny sparks mass hysteria among the other animals as she spreads the news that the “sky is falling,” and eventually leads them all to their death. The moral of the story? Have courage and do not believe everything you hear.
I used to run around the house screaming “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Which, I am sure, made my parents question their decision to introduce their energetic child to gloomy folk literature. Today, one of my strengths is positivity, so I no longer shout about the end of days, but rather spend much of my time figuring out how to spread the Kingdom of God here and now. When an acorn falls on my head, I simply brush it off and move on.
However, that is not the case in the larger church. The prevailing message is that mainline denominations are dying. This is partially true, the Pew Research Center indicates that in 2014 we had 5 million fewer Protestants than in 2007. The message of decline reverberates through church staff meetings, congregational meetings, fellowship gatherings, and in pop culture. Five million people lost is a pretty hefty acorn for mainline denominations to bear. Protestants have fully embodied the idea that they are declining, and like Henny Penny, spread the news where ever they can.
Where is our courage? What is that Sunday School refrain again? Something about trusting in…GOD?
Friends, believe the good news: in Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Forgiven for ignoring our role in spreading the message of doom. Forgiven for turning our church into a country club. Forgiven for shunning those who are flocking away from our mainline denominations. Forgiven for denying our leadership potential in the midst of such decline.
Seth Godin, author of Tribes, suggests that transformative leadership will not come from those already in power, but from those free of the confining restraints of organizational responsibilities. He says: “In unstable times, growth comes from leaders who create change and engage their organizations…” (41). In unpredictable times filled with messages of decline, each and every one of us can be leaders that pull our tribes out of the herd loudly braying negativity and focus instead on creating change.
After all, the world as we know it IS ending. Each day there are new challenges that we face, and we must rise to the challenge. We must inspire our congregations to seek God’s presence in their lives, because only that will endure. We must have courage to face these tumultuous times with faith and perseverance.
We will be leaders who challenge the narrative about the mainline denomination. We will inspire. We will create. We will connect people with each other and their spiritual dreams. We will engage in prayerful dialogue. We will not shout that the sky is falling.
Hang in there Henny Penny, your leaders are coming.