For a teenage boy, nothing says freedom and coolness like having a car. Of course, even better is having a really cool car. My neighbor across the street from us when I was growing up had a cool car. It was a British MG, dark red, convertible. Everything about screamed cool as far as I was concerned. It was a seventies model with chrome bumpers and an armor all shined top. It was the epitome of what I considered cool. Except that it hardly ever ran.
Our neighbor, George, spent as much time repairing the car as he did driving it. He might get it running for a few weeks, maybe a month, and zip in and out of the neighbor only to end up limping home or having to be towed. Many were the Saturdays George was up to his elbows in grease and scratches, trying to get the engine to behave just right so he could drive the MG again. It always looked good, but it rarely ran well and usually not for long.
Unfortunately, our churches are much like George’s MG: they look good on the outside (churches do like to keep up the property and maintain appearances) but the inside, as Jesus said of the Pharisees, is often full of dead or dying communities. We have exchanged being the Body of Christ for being a broken shell of what once was a body. Frankly, we started that trend long ago, sometime around Acts 15. As much as some church historians would like to think otherwise, the disciples who claim Jesus as their rabbi have never been a group for consensus. Look into the history of the church and there has rarely been a period of time when dissenters didn’t exist. Many of these dissenters, in my estimation, were closer to the truth and closer to what Jesus and the prophetic witness taught than the so-called majority or authorities. If the Walking Dead has taught us anything. it’s that if you put enough zombies (or lifeless, authoritative church members) in one place, the living can’t accomplish much.
And little has changed. The gatekeepers guard the gates zealously for fear someone might hear from God in a way that hasn’t been properly sanctioned, verified, codified, and otherwise approved by said gatekeepers. The Spirit attempts to move and sometimes manages to get a small group going in a good direction. But the combination of gatekeepers saying, “You can’t do that” and zombie church members saying, “We’ve never done that or done it that way before” keeps things from progressing far. And churches continue to stagnate, suffocated by unreasonable rules and expectation from without and within.
I think there is a way out of it or at least, I think there is a possible start. These four ideas might be a good place to begin.
Build Communities not Churches
John Wesley was famous for saying, “The world is my parish.” The church should embrace this, spin it, and say, “The parish is my church.” We should not be about creating boxes to hold people on Sunday morning, isolated from the people who live around them. Churches need to find new ways to not only be in the community but to be part of the community. Churches should seek to practice new ways of being church—services that fit the schedule of the community not the gatekeepers, services outside the church building and in the community, service to the community weekly (not just a once in a while project) that keep the church (the people themselves) connected to those in their communities. We need to be church in the community rather than create small groups of people from the community.i don’t know
Be honest about faith
Quit trying to protect God and the bible with cheap apologetics and partisan argumentation. Be honest about the idea of experiential faith and how experience has always been the root of all aspects of faith. For instance, in the Methodist tradition, we say we understand God through the lenses of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. I was explaining this to my wife one day and she said, “It’s all just types of experience.” And when I thought about it, I realized she was right. Scripture is the experience of those who engaged the Holy Spirit and wrote down their experience. The experiences were common enough for people to say, “We can all relate to that.” Over time that experience becomes sacred/holy (set apart). Tradition is our experience of how we come together in worship and service, written down and codified over time. Experience is simply our personal experience and engagement with God. And reason is the collective human experience of thinking through our experience together.
Some people (okay perhaps many people) would disagree with this but that’s the point. We don’t all agree. We have differing perspectives and interpretations. Being honest about these things allows us to have a conversation of faith that isn’t stifled by strict adherence to certain ideas but makes room for honest questions and answers.
Be humble enough to say, “I don’t know.”
Speaking of which, I could very well have all of this wrong. I don’t believe so, but I’m willing to say this is my best understanding up to this point. That understanding has changed from the simplistic faith of a fifteen-year-old kid in a hyper fundamentalist church to what it is today (sorry I don’t know how to label what I am now for those looking for a label; it is what it is). And it continues to change, evolve, and grow today. One thing I have realized in this process is certainty stifles faith. As soon as we develop an idea we are certain of and we place our security in and around it, we stop growing. We stop wondering. We stop seeking. Saying, “I don’t know” is a way of recognizing our certainty is nothing more than a security blanket. It makes us feel good, but it keeps us stuck where we are, a sort of arrested development. The Church has arrested its development long enough. We need to get curious again and stop trying to stop the growth process.
Be willing to explore faith rather than hide behind it
The ancient fore parents of our current expression of faith were spirit chasers. They went whenever and wherever they were led by their understanding of the spirit of God. True faith was following the Spirit of God to see where it led not hiding in a bunker (or temple) to wait for something to happen (or hope it didn’t). Along the same lines as being honest about faith, we need to explore the faith and beliefs of Jesus and those who came before him. We need to be willing to go where the Spirit leads, recognizing that when the Spirit leads it’s to somewhere not nowhere. The Spirit, like the wind moves. God does not stay still. Exploring faith means being willing to test the things we say we believe or for that matter actually learn what they mean. Most church members I have pastored have rarely read the bible through much less anything religious outside the bible. Their faith is combination of what parents and grandparents taught (who learned it from parents and grandparents) and pop theology passed word of mouth or through televangelists. I apologize if that sounds crass, but I don’t apologize for saying it. It needs to be said.
We can’t put a new name, new logo, new whatever in/on the church and think we’ve fixed anything. The damage is deep under the hood in the way we see community, the bible, the function of the church, and the negative politics that have creeped into our communities. We will need to address these things in a deep and meaningful way if we expect to see anything changed. Otherwise, we’ll sit in the garage and rust until someone takes us off to the junkyard. That is, the doors will close, the community will disband, and we will cease to be what we were called to be.
These are my thoughts. What are yours? Feel free to send me an email at email@example.com if you want to explore the thought further.
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