Saturday, July 8, 2017

Church Directions

"The church by its very nature is composed of tent dwellers." -- Paul Minear

Is your church "too rooted?" Churches that have been in the same community for decades have a way of becoming so staid and predictable that it's hard for them to break out of having always done the same thing forever.  Frequently, these "rooted" churches tend to be mainline denominations.  They are the tried and true, steady as she goes, traditional places of worship.  Some people, people who are nervous about change, tend to do well in these places of worship. They don't like their boats rocked, and like always knowing what to expect.  We don't have much of a concept any more about frontiers. Yet, according to the Biblical witness, people of faith are called to the frontiers.

The old frontier used to be a wild place for people to migrate to when they started feeling too hemmed in by city life.  When a place started getting too closed in, people would sort through and throw their most valuable possessions in a wagon, sign up with a wagon train, and head west.  All kinds of adventures could beset them from extremes in weather, illness, injury, wild animals, to happening upon the territorial defenses of First Nation peoples.  They had to depend on one another and then, when they arrived at their chosen destination, they often homesteaded on a 5-acre parcel of land. Rugged independent survivalists is what they could be called, where every day held the potential need for an urgent response to a new problem.

Abraham and Sarah are Biblical people who set out from their safe home in Haran to an unknown place they had never seen nor heard of before.  There were numerous others who took up wandering away from their homes.  The 11th chapter of Hebrews is full of brief remembrances of those who left security for the unknown.  Each new remembrance begins with the phrase, "By faith...."

By faith where are you headed each day? By faith where is your church heading?  It does not really take any faith at all to stay put and keep doing the predictable.  Most mainline denominations are struggling with declining membership and recognition in their communities.  Volumes have been written analyzing why this decline is happening.  Many churches are shuttering their doors, unable to remain viable.  One common denominator though may be they're akin to those hemmed in city places that sent many people packing to populate the Wild West.  There's no sense of adventure, excitement, or urgency to respond to change, and let's face it -- it's boring.

Change is happening all around us.  In order to move with it and to make faithful responses to it churches need to keep an attitude of being tent dwellers.  All the Biblical people that the church reveres were nomadic.  Jesus "had no place to lay his head." (Matt. 8:20) Churches on the move are those welcoming the stranger and exile - be that in a literal sense, or in a more figurative or spiritual sense.  We don't attract the vulnerable needs of the world by appearing like we're all put together and perfect city snobs. 

So, by faith let us look at ourselves with the discerning eyes of outsiders.  By faith let us feel the urgency of leading the way to a promised hope-filled future.  By faith let us all be in conversation with how to undertake the mission of Jesus Christ anew, the mission of gathering, healing, growing, loving, and transforming the lives of all.

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