Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Safety and Security?

This spring our family had the opportunity to visit Lynn Canyon in British Columbia. It’s a fretful wonder. A swinging bridge hangs across the chasm providing a view that can turn your legs to Jell-o. Perhaps it’s only short blokes like me who feel jittery peering over the edge of such an abyss. We also had our four children along and, I tell you, to be vertically challenged and clamouring to keep a rambunctious five year old from plunging into a front page headline is heart pounding stuff. Safety and security are important at Lynn Canyon, but should it be an equally high value for the church?

Missiologist David Bosch says something unsettling: “for many centuries the church has suffered very little and has been led to believe that it is a success.” Is he right? Have we cherished, applauded, and even institutionalized our relative ease, peace, safety and security within the Canadian landscape at the expense of our true identity, our true purpose, and distinct witness? Have we surrendered our true citizenship? At times we do seem to be an eternally charged and destined people convinced that the ease and security of the present is what matters most. Along with our culture we’ve sanitized, tethered and helmeted ourselves at such a price that one begins to wonder if the real cost is our prophetic discipleship and the joy of obedient adventure. He who had no place to lay his head and said we’d be blessed to be despised for his name’s sake might be quite uncomfortable in our plush pews as we worship according to our preferences. Is the expression of the local church in Canada a window into heaven?

I think of this every week as I go about my peculiar religious vocation that can be so oft beset by the inertia of people pleasing. An unnerving question keeps pounding in the background of my day like that annoying drip from the faucet I should be fixing: is this what Jesus meant when he said he’d build a church that the gates of Hades could not overcome? Am I alone, or have we accepted and even blindly endorsed a Christian existence that essentially runs counter to our message and even our Lord’s person, example and teaching? Let’s face it, if we’d really live the Sermon on the Mount or cry and strive for justice and righteousness both within the church and culture as the Old Testament prophets we’d be marked men and women. On the other hand, we might leave a very different mark.

It’s not that we don’t like the beautiful wilds of following Jesus, we just like them manageable and safe – kind of like going to an Imax film where you can almost live the adventure with a box of popcorn without having to, well, live it. But the landscape is changing. Our safe and secure segregated spirituality is being tested. We are being asked which we cherish most: safety and security or the counter-cultural witness of a risen Lord, a resurrected life, an uncommon love, and a wild new Kingdom. Our understanding of success will need to be redefined and brought in line, Lord willing, with those historical moments when the church teetered on the brink, looked to be facing the impossible, discovered herself crossing a proverbial canyon, and found herself shining most brightly.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Know Thyself

I was a chubby kid. Oh, I could score a few goals in a hockey game, but I keenly remember the haunting taunts of “Philsbury Dough Boy.” There were days I would have loved to crush some of my tormentors beneath my fresh-baked buns—if only I could have caught up to them.

The impact of those pre-teen days of identity mutilation took years to overcome. It wasn’t until a crisis moment and spiritual awakening in my late teens that I wiggled free from those traps of mocking and scoffing. I came to know that what God thought of me, how he defined me, was what mattered most. I was to be labelled by grace and mercy. My Creator was no mean Jokester. In fact, he had a plan that required my redefinition, the knowing of myself not in the mirror, but in the redeemed reflection of my Saviour and Friend. We do as we believe we are.

Now turn the corner with me from the self to the community. Churches have self-identities too. Furthermore, these self-identities are crucial in their understanding of mission, purpose, and their relationship to their world.

I don’t have the definitive word on the myriad of self-identities churches live with, but I do note from my experience these broad categories:

Wounded churches: Beat up by cultural or social circumstances, internal strife, or relational issues gone bad, these churches are limping along, believing they have nothing to offer. They are introspective, cloistered, over-sensitive, and prone to knee-jerk reactions. They need to be loved, reminded of their true identity so their woundedness can be transformed into mission and ministry to a wounded world.

Stubborn churches: Shaped by a haughty spirit that is sure of its rightness, these churches lack a spirit of submission, teach-ability and surrender. They are prone to chew up leaders, those not like them, and are reticent to change. They are shaped by strong personalities, recurring power-plays, and a refusal to see where God is at work and to move in that direction. They need to be challenged, confronted, and called to repentance so their stubbornness can become a holy strength.

Wishy-washy churches: Shaped by the desire to please and be liked, these churches fall prey to the latest fads and philosophies. They are well-meaning and often very intelligent, but become anchorless, floundering ships on the tossing waves of cultural drift. They need to be grounded in truth and taught to contend for the faith. They must read their culture biblically instead of reading their Bibles culturally. They have great strength to offer but need to build on the sure foundation.

Blind churches: Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ rebuke, these churches adore righteousness in religious garb, but don’t see that they often contradict the message with their mediums. They live a culturalized Christianity that has long abandoned any transforming power. They cherish the packaging, but have forgotten the product. These churches need their religiosity refined by the fire and freedom of the Holy Spirit that enables them to see more clearly and trust more wildly.

What is the self-identity of your fellowship? You do have one and it’s shaping your mission, ministry, and purpose. What good, bad, and ugly has shaped it? Where do you, like a plump little boy, need the One who gives our true identity?