November 29, 2007

Church Thoughts

So I finally compiled the results of my little poll. Thanks for responding--I knew I could count on you. Here is a table of the results, with my attempts to classify/categorize what you all said.

I obviously took some liberty with the categorizations, but it seems like people think that a church should be diverse, have strong biblical teaching/doctrine, have good community between church members, and reach out to the larger, surrounding community. A church should avoid being rigid or resistant to change, shouldn't worry so much about being modern or cool, and should be careful about getting in the way of Jesus and his gospel.

Now, before I do any expository commenting on your responses, let me list my own. (I ended up having to reconstruct them finally, since I can't find where I originally wrote them down, but I think I got pretty close to my originals.) Here they are.

The Church Should Be

1) A community of people who are honest about their similarities (loving Jesus, seeking out his truth) AND their differences (which could be almost anything else).
2) A safe place for everyone to meet friends, learn about living, seek truth, experience God, and/or observe others worship him.
3) A source of inspiration that results in people becoming who they were created to be in their life and communities.

The Church Should Avoid

1) A long list of doctrines or beliefs that "membership" requires.
2) Becoming defined by our numbers, by exclusion, by measures of success or failure, or by sin-management and reactionary preaching.
3) Lost focus (the church is not a political action committee, or the town judge/detective/accuser, or a private club, or etc.)

Now, let me compare. I'll start with diversity. It looks like I don't find this important at all, but I don't think that's exactly true. I do think that a Church should be representative of the community of people that it's a part of, but I'm uncomfortable with the idea of actively seeking this out. I don't ever want to look at my church and think, "This church needs more Latinos! How can we attract Latinos? Hmm..." Instead, I think I see the problem the other way around -- if a church is located in a Latino community and still has very few Latinos, the question to ask is probably "Are we doing anything that is discouraging Latinos from feeling comfortable or safe here?" If the church isn't a safe place for everyone to seek truth and experience God, why not?

Biblical teaching and doctrine is important, but sometimes I think it becomes a tool for the wrong purposes. The problem, I think, is with our understanding of what counts as "Biblical". There have been many times that I know I have pretended to agree with someone for the sake of what I thought was church unity or solidarity, but what did I gain by doing it? I want the Bible to be preached from because it is dripping with the very truth that we're all there to seek. But the minute our definition of "Biblical" is used to stomp on someone's questions or doubts or confusions or experiences -- the elements of an honest search for a wild and mysterious God -- I think it compromises the strength and the safety that the church has. I want the community of people I worship and seek with to be honest about our differences, and to be okay with them. I don't think we need an inflexible list of mandatory doctrinal statements and theological beliefs to hold our community together, either. Is it possible to be honest about the fact that we're all seeking, and we don't have everything figured out? I think it is.

Community within the church is what the Church is, in my opinion. A group of people who are bonded by the fact that we're all very interested in this God that we've heard about, and are seeking after him together as much as our hearts allow. And out of that search, and out of those experiences with each other and with God inevitably will flow an outpouring of compassion and love for our surrounding communities. But when I think of my desire to love people more, I can't help but think that it's a desire not to be a better church-goer or a better Christian, but just to be human! We believe that God created us to love and care for each other, but we aren't always motivated to be those people that God created us to be. I long for the Church to be a source of that inspiration, serving as the flint that sparks us to love each other, to create beautiful music and art, to care for our communities, and to live in (or out) God's love.

An unwillingness to change can be harmful. Where change is needed, I think the Church should be bold enough to consider it and to follow through with where God leads, as best as can be determined. But I also know that there are times when change feels exciting, or looks attractive, but resisting that particular change is the right thing to do. God help us if we ever begin to believe that all change is good, or that change just for its own sake is always helpful. How to determine which changes are good and right and which are unnecessary or untimely is probably one of the things I'm most scared of getting wrong. Not because I think the consequences are all that drastic, but because I think it's just so hard to know which is which. I guess sometimes we make the best decision we can and let God's grace cover us when we're wrong.

Losing focus, becoming defined by the wrong things, becoming focused on unimportant issues like being modern or successful, getting in the way of Jesus and his gospel -- these are all very similar ways of saying the same thing, probably. We may differ on what's included in the "wrong things" or the "unimportant issues", or what's "getting in the way", but we all recognize that getting sidetracked or becoming something other than what the Church should be is bad for the Church. Because of this, I think an honest community that's willing to discuss these kinds of issues is probably the healthiest kind of Church.

Thanks again for responding. Feel free to let me know why you disagree with my categorizations, or my lists, or my consensus picks, or my explanations. Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Matthew said...

I like your bit about diversity. It validates and allows a place for ethnic churches, where if diversity was a necessity, then it would discriminate against that.