Vision passion, commitment, community; these are the words that are running around my head at the moment, partly as a response to"Church for next Christians....community or mission?" that is posted over at Jesus Creed, and partly due to a growing dissatisfaction with the structures of church that demand my attention!
Over at Jesus Creed rjs says:
"In a changing environment adaptation and change is necessary, and we are seeing that in many ways with different models for church being advanced … from seeker friendly, demographic oriented, house church, organic church, to multi-campus mini denominations. The church is evolving to meet the new challenges, to survive and prosper. The various changes in our society and the changes in the models for church have an impact on the way we understand church and the way we understand the nature of worship, the function of the church and role of the pastor. This has led, for many, to the worship wars."
The church is evolving to meet new challenges, to survive and prosper; I want to say that my experince in rural Yorkshire and before that in rural Norfolk is that the church is not yet evolving but its questions are focused in that direction. From that point on I take the remainder of the post and the posts from Michael Mercer at Internet Monk here and here as a warning.
Is our church a congregation for everybody? Do we honor our elders, for example? Do we involve our children? When people look at our church and attend our services do they see both unity and diversity? Do they see people loving and getting along with each other despite different tastes and preferences? Do they see a willingness to humbly learn and grow in areas that might make me stretch so that I can appreciate those who are different from me? It’s about character, humility, Christ-likeness, love, not about putting on a slick program (no matter what style it may be).
He is pointing to a situation where the older folk are pushed aside and the focus of the Sunday Service is attractional. He cites an example of a talented choir director being pushed aside in order to make room for the worship band and a multi-media approach. Out here in rural Methodism UK, a worship band is relatively rare, but then so are choirs and music directors, but that does not make the questions irrelevant. I sit in meeting after meeting where the main question asked is "how can we get them to come?" Followed swiftly by "what will we have to change?" This usually then centres on styles of worship, types of music and making the best of the projector (oh yes we have a projector).
I have never been convinced that these are the right questions, and now I am even less convinced. One of the churches I minister to has a problem not of a missing generation, but missing generations, apart from one or two ( and I mean one or two) younger folk who attend occasionally we have nobody but me under 50 in the congregation, and even the 50's to 60's are thin on the ground!
I am told that the young folk have moved away- really, all of them?...and there are no young folk here? Well excuse me but three Nursery Schools, two Primary Schools and a large High School all make that statement sound rather silly, the truth is that they don't come, they don't want to come, they don't see any point in getting out of bed on a Sunday morning to come to an elderly hymn singing club- why would they?! Sorry to put it so bluntly, but there it is...
But again I come back to a question- is the point of church to get other people to join church? I have to say that I would argue that it is not, people may join the church when they see the difference that following Jesus has made to our lives and want to begin to follow him themselves. People may join the church because they see our love for one another and want to be part of such a loving community. People may come because they are seeking something beyond themselves, though it is doubtful that they will come for that reason as recent statistics show that more and more people who are spiritual seekers are unlikely to approach the church. People may come after a funeral, or wanting a child baptised, I would still argue that getting them to stay is not the point of church...
Jesus called his early followers to make a difference saying to them:
"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5)
In essence, you are in this world to make a difference, to be different, to be flavourful light
bringers, not within the church but out in the world, it is in the world that we are called to be different. Our problem I think is well described by Sarah Savage and Eloene Boyde-McMillan in their book "The Human Face of Church", citing Max Weber they say:
“Weber argued that any great vision require a human process to carry it through time, sometimes in the form of “a man, a mission, a movement, or a monument”. Even with the Body of Christ, the life giving charism has to be embodied in a routine – in some form of human organisation. Yet, life giving visions do not fit easily into neat boxes. So the very process that gives the vision continuing life also begins to kill it. When the maintenance of the institution (which protects the charism) becomes the institutions primary purpose, the death of the charism is on the horizon. Only spiritual revival or reform will re-ignite the gift.” (Savage and Boyd-McMillan 2007. p4)
So often churches seek to protect themselves from what they see as a threat from the world beyond their walls, and the institution and not the charism becomes the primary focus for their activity. In other words maintaining the institution becomes more important that sharing the good news and we effectively keep the salt in the salt cellar and hide our light under a bowl!
We must begin to ask ourselves: why we are here? To dare to ask again what is the purpose of Church, to dare to receive the answer and to dream. Can we like Paul say, "Christs love compels us", or do we hear the stories of Jesus but not allow them to touch and challenge us? Are we salty and filled with light or not?
........The guiding goal of the local church is to be the community of the body of Christ, to worship God in corporate gathering, to equip people to to go forth in their vocations in the world to witness, proclaim, and live the gospel."
Maybe the greatest question we have to answer then is how as church we can refocus our attention outward, how we can regain the gathering to be sent focus that we are charged with at least everytime we gather at the Lords Table. How can we hear afresh the charge we are given, to "Go to love and serve the Lord"?
I could say so much more- but I hope that this will be the start of a conversation, and wonder where it will lead to...