Almost every Christian community I’ve served in has had a preoccupation with
- what we do over who we are;
- what we say rather than how we live;
- what we prefer rather than what is essential to our call as God’s people;
- how church fits into our lives more than how to be missional disciples called to the places we find ourselves
- getting people in as opposed to being sent
- institution rather than movement
- human safety over Kingdom risk
- preservation over giving ourselves away
Our churches often have such a strong gravitational pull, not always because they’re so attractive and healthy, but because they are a demanding black hole of the time, money and effort needed to sustain such an institution.
As a leader, I confess to continually being sucked into the whirling vortex of maintenance over mission, programme over people, role over relationships, planning over prayer – all in the name of keeping the ship afloat. Ironically, it is these positions that may need to shift most if the ship is to stay on the water at all and not in some breakers yard.
Most churches invest significant amounts of energy, focus and resource into the one hour Sunday special in particular. Don’t get me wrong – it is important for the church to gather. However, the quality of the church is only as good as the quality of its disciples. If the Sunday morning show is high on entertainment or even top-shelf religious education, but low on the transformative challenge that provokes an engaged discipleship for the rest of the waking week, it is but a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.
I have friends all over the ecclesiastical spectrum. Everyone from high anglo-catholic to disestablished wanderers for Christ working it out ‘in the desert’ of the post-Christendom west, and I love them all. I see value in what they’re all doing. Yet, I also sense a great deal of confusion about what we actually discern as our fundamental reason d’etré. I see the battle both to be released from the shackles of the Christendom-shaped church and on the other end, those who’ve struggled free but who now are spinning out of orbit. I see people trying to cooperate on the tight-rope between the two extremes but losing the balance – like ‘Fiddlers on the Roof’.
And so I find myself in my thinking times, reflective times, and prayer times, sitting before God like a teenager with a math’s equation that’s beyond his grade seeking to discern what of the stuff he’s learned so far helps him begin to tackle the problem. Actually, the fundamental problem is more acute than that. The convictions within are often beyond the scope of possibility in communities where there is an acceleration of learning required to respond faithfully to the missional challenge. That there is what I see as being my responsibility – to accelerate the focussed learning for the task at hand.
And so, it seems to me that the path with most integrity is the one that ultimately serves, tries to ask the pertinent questions, and seeks to model an alternative future with a certainty that looks convincing along with the necessary ‘heretical imperative’ to continually re-evaluate and maintain the pioneering edge.
In simple language: we’re somehow broken and in need of the Healer; frantic and in need of the Comforter; lost and in need of the Saviour; confused and in need of a Guide. Good job we’re not left to do it on our own. Come, Lord Jesus.