I ate a kohlrabi for the first time recently. I’ve heard of them—even seen them in stores—but never eaten one. I got the kohlrabi as part of my farm share. I bought into a Community Supported Agriculture farm from which I get a weekly bag of vegetables. (You can check out my CSA here or go to funacres.net.) Before the season begins, one can choose which vegetables you like. I had decided to be a bit adventurous and checked “Like” next to veggies and fresh herbs with which I do not have much experience—such as Swiss chard, dill, and kohlrabi.
Thanks to the internet, I learned that kohlrabi are also called “German turnips” and that the name kohlrabi means “cabbage turnip.” However, the kohlrabi is not part of the turnip family. Instead, it belongs to the same plant family as broccoli, cabbage and Brussel sprouts. Both the bulb and the leaves are edible. The internet had a lot of recipes for preparing kohlrabi and the one I tried turned out quite well.
I’m not a terribly adventurous eater most of the time. I tend to find things I like and stick with them. But occasionally, I feel daring and eat something completely new. Sometimes it works out and sometimes I wished I stayed with the tried and true.
I’m presently reading a book on Christian leadership called Canoeing Up the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger. I’m only a few chapters in, but already I am resonating with Bolsinger’s premise. Essentially, he is saying that most pastors today have been trained to lead churches from the 20th century, not churches from the 21st century. Moreover, he says that most church members, especially long-term church people, are in the same canoe—the church they knew and loved and served is rapidly disappearing and they (we) do not know what to do. We are in uncharted territory.
Already the book has given glimpses of where the author is headed: that we the church need to try something entirely new or we will die. In a recent sermon, I said something similar: that churches that do not change will die. Bolsinger is even more blunt: the church doesn’t need to change a few things—we need a radical overhaul or we will die.
While I find myself agreeing with Bolsinger, I also find myself a bit overwhelmed by what he is saying. I am one of those pastors who was trained to pastor a 1980’s or 1990’s congregation. Some of my congregation members feel I’ve already introduced too many changes to St. Peter because they long for the St. Peter of the 1960’s or 1970’s. Yet Bolsinger has already made the point—because this is a book on Christian leadership—that the first person who must change is the leader, AKA, the pastor. The pastor is not the only one who must change, but s/he is certainly must go first. That’s a little intimidating to me. If it’s uncharted territory, how do I know where to begin? What happens if no one else in the congregation wants to enter the uncharted territory with me? What if we enter this entirely new paradigm and it falls apart around us or blows up in our faces? What if we hurt our church instead of helping it?
And I thought: kohlrabi. It was new to me just a few weeks ago, a vegetable about which I knew nothing. I was hesitant about preparing and eating it, but I found that kohlrabi was quite tasty.
I suppose this is the attitude I would need to take into this uncharted future for the church. What if this radical shift for the congregation turns out to be a good thing? What if we get energized and excited again about the Gospel? What if we grow in faith and service and maybe in membership?
After all, if I hadn’t liked the kohlrabi recipe, I probably would have tried another recipe. If I eventually decided I didn’t like kohlrabi, that would not stop me from trying some other new vegetable—say, Swiss chard or parsnips or collard greens. Alternatively, I could go back to what I know—the tried and true.
Unfortunately, going back to what we know is not an option for the church. We have already been doing things that we know how to do—tried and true—only it’s not working or not working as well as it once did. Instead, Bolsinger’s book urges churches to honor their past without getting stuck there and then to try some kohlrabi—something utterly new. If the kohlrabi is a bust, you go on to Swiss chard or rutabagas or some other new possibility. Eventually, something will work. It’s about learning to be church in an almost entirely different way, he says. After all, the purpose of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that never changes. Christ is the message—the church is part of the delivery system. The message is eternal; the means of delivery can change at any time.
Tod Bolsinger also makes the point that the declining of the Christian church will not lead to the failure of the Gospel. As disciples of Jesus, we know that the Gospel is more powerful than the church and that whatever failures the church may experience, the Gospel will survive and thrive. Hopefully that provides some comfort and courage for those who are adventurous enough to move forward into the uncharted territory that lays before the people of God.