My friend and former colleague Martin Thompson wrote this interesting piece on his reflections on church. I’ve a deep love and respect for Martin and Kay, and all at once, I agree and disagree with him on it. In the interest of online discussion, I wanted to jot a few lines.
I agree in that churches are undoubtedly the most frustrating places on the planet most of the time. I lament the way that the institution has gathered a life and character of its own that can suck life from the most vibrant human; the way that it detracts from the life-giving message of the Kingdom in exchange for Churchianity; the way it wounds its broken with its rules and regulations, over-riding transformative grace; the way it bores us to bloody tears at times. As a pastor/minister all these years I’ve been in a variety of settings which have made me weep real tears. I’ve experienced times when the church has ground me down to nothing and left me dangling precariously on a deep cavity of disillusionment. In response to this challenge over the years I’ve tried many things: running away; disengaging; calling it to higher ideals and trying to change it; totally succumbing to the pressures and playing the game; speaking out about it; keeping my head down. You name it, I’ve probably tried it as part of the heart and mental gymnastics one must do to live alongside it. He’s right – church is broken, it’s not the fulness of the Kingdom, and it may never be. There also may well be something better still to come. I have a deep sympathy with the frustrations that ‘church’ brings and a little part of me is envious of Martin and Kay’s current freedom.
Where I disagree is bound up in this: I need Martin and Kay, and his family. They are me, at least part of me. We probably haven’t seen each other in a good while, and we’ve currently no plans, but that’s not the point. I don’t want to ‘do church’ with them or have them join my small group, or have them sit beside me on a Sunday morning. I’m not talking about institutionalising them, but I need their community, their vision, their influence…and yes, Martin, I totally need you to be about more than your job, your family unit and your frustrations. I need your fulness and your brokenness, your love and your frustration, your energy and your exhaustion…and maybe even a beer. You see, we’re family. There is something we share deeply and I’m reasonably sure that if I were living near you I’d be saying: hey buddy, you’re holding out on us…and let me really encourage you not to hold out on dealing with those big questions that prolong the vision coming to fruition because in doing that work you may well become the conduit through which your desired transformation happens. I know this is the bit that’s a pain in the ass, but no-one is going to fulfil your deep desires and vision apart from you…figuring it out, sharing it and inviting others to partner in it. Without that, you’re all on your own, buddy. *tumbleweed*
But I get it. Even whilst still ‘part and parcel’ of the institution, sometimes fully against my better judgement, I have to say don’t leave us in the lurch. It’s not about you. Life is not about you, but you are about life and that life includes the rest of us (whoever the local ‘us’ might be). It’s about us, and we need to work this thing out together. It IS worth it. There are people out there who need help to reimagine. However, it was Bonhoeffer who said that the one thing likely to destroy all possibility of community is our high ideals of community. Community is messy, frustrating, hurtful, costly and all that…but it’s essential, it’s at the heart of following Jesus, and we need each other.