I wish I could remember where I read it now, but the phrase that has been in my mind the last couple of weeks is ‘If the church stops talking about Jesus, it really has nothing much to say.’ It spoke to the very heart of the essence of where I feel I am at the moment. I’ve had years of relatively calm scepticism about the thing we call ‘church’, and, in many ways and like many people, I’m not always overly inspired.
Yet, year by year, month by month, day by day, my passion and intrigue about Jesus grows and grows. What that is doing, unsurprisingly, is giving me an increasingly fresh perspective. I pretty much live by Deitrich Bonnhoeffer’s conviction that, “the renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism, which has only in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this.”
This, I find, captures so much of the essence of the transformation needed: if people focus on becoming like Jesus, the church will be renewed. I know how simplistic that sounds, and life is never so simple, but as Alan Hirsch says, “If you focus on discipleship, you always get the church, but if you focus on church you don’t always get disciples.” This, to me, remains the key lessons the church has to grasp as we continue to move into this 21st century.
A few weeks I spoke about whether the minutes of our church meetings, councils, synods, etc, if opened up to honest scrutiny, would either support or deny the evidence of the church as being the body of Christ, caught up in him and his cause. I think up and down the country and in other nations, the church can so easily become about something else, even well intentioned things. If ‘Back to Church’ Sunday’s were renamed ‘Back to Jesus’ Sundays, it would still sound as cheesy, but it may actually be closer to the desired effect: Follow Jesus
Here’s the thing…you can talk till the cows come home at an institutional/structural level about discipleship and present as many challenges on church community as you like, but what actually changes is the joining of hearts similarly fired to live an alternative future in the now. Right now, I continue to engage with inherited churches (even if sometimes I do wonder…) because fundamentally I believe that renewal is possible. I believe Jesus can turn the thing round. I believe that he can be the height, the pinnacle, the foundation, and all those sorts of words to the church. It can all be about him again.
As I face the new challenge of setting out alongside another church community, my heartfelt desire is to continue to do all I can to preach Christ, share Christ, minister Christ, point to Christ, invite Christ and honour Christ in every way I can with the desire of fanning into flame that desire in others. It isn’t true, I find from experience, that all people in our churches automatically want to have that focus for a variety of reason. The renewal of the church will be a nice byproduct, but will always pale into the back ground of the experience of Jesus afresh as he shows us what the ‘God-in-community’ has to say not only to the world, but to the movement that bears his name.