Inspire, Nurture, Embrace: A Thought Experiment for Our Church (part 4)
What affect might thinking this way have? What affect might it have on our community, our selves, God, the wider world? We’ll end this thought experiment with two distinct responses to this question; one practical, and one theological. Because we are first and foremost “New Englanders” we will begin with the Practical.
Quick vocabulary check-in, from etymonline.com: Practical (adjective); a word in use since the early 15th century, meaning “dealing with practical matters, applied, not merely theoretical.”
Let me tell you about some of the recurring themes or questions that have been presented to me in the 3.5 years since I began practicing ministry in this church:
Not everyone here believes the same thing, and the way we worship is not meeting people where they are. This sentiment reveals a deep uncertainty about our “Heartwood,” the strong pillar that both came before us and is strong enough to see us through every storm. For some of us, faith has been used as a weapon of control and abuse. For others, traditional faith cannot keep pace with our current understanding of nature, humans, physics, etc. The work of Humility can assist all of us in relying on those who came before, the ways of our tradition that have served ordinary people since the dawn of time, learning to see our beliefs, our opinions, our selves as PART of the larger, timeless puzzle of human existence and discover the sturdy, reliable support offered by God and our ancestors of faith.
We are having a difficult time finding people to support the ministries of our church. It seems as though the same small set of leaders are doing the majority of the work over and over again. It has set up a dynamic that allows us to think, “If no one else is willing to do this work…does that mean it isn’t valuable? And am I going to be stuck doing it forever?” This is, essentially, an issue of Trust. We are living in a particular moment that makes it difficult to Trust in the value of the work of church…and even more difficult to Trust that others will agree on its value. When we place Relationships at the center of our work, we automatically begin strengthening Trust in one another, God, and the idea that the work we pursue as a community has inherent worth to the human soul. As sapwood rejuvenates the tree…Trust rejuvenates the community.
How do things get done around here? Who is responsible for what? One of the largest fallacies that currently exists in “Church World” is the idea that “Someone else is in charge.” As a result, those of us in leadership are often on the receiving end of personal opinions and questions as if we were CEOs of major corporations, rather than humble servants of God’s People in this place. We must remember that we are the Church, together, all of us. Whatever does or does not happen is all due to the people willing to show up and ask questions, offer ideas, and do the work to which God has called us. The “phloem” passes nutrition to the whole body of the tree…and the depth and breadth of Commitment by the members of our church determine how nourished we are as a Body.
The world is more and more busy, and church cannot '“compete” with youth sports on Sunday, increasingly demanding employers, etc. Just as the Cambrium Cell Layer of a tree produces the “auxins” that stimulate growth, our ability to determine and maintain healthy Boundaries determines the health of our Church Body. People who choose to not participate in church are labeled as many different things: not interested, not believing, too selfish, too busy. It has become my firm belief that people are turned off from church, not because they don’t find it important, but because EVERYTHING in our modern world has become so confusing and complex that we can’t decide what is important and what is urgent…what is meaningless tradition and what is essential wisdom…what is worth our time and what makes us worry that our time is being wasted? As we work on defining and upholding healthy boundaries, we will find ourselves able to let in what is healthy for us, and reject what is unhealthy. We will find ourselves more able to nurture the New Growth among us, adding needed energy and vision to our Body.
How do other people make their way through the world without a caring, committed community like this? The essential attitude of service: I am so filled up, how can I reach out to those who are not fulfilled? I love the Way of Life I have found, how might I invite others to discover the joys and the costs of this path? We have people in our community who worship every week…we have people in our community who would never dream of worshipping with us on a Sunday, but they will join us for every Community Service project we take on. We have folks who we see once a year at the holidays, and we have people that we see once a month to serve at Soup’s On. Like the Outer Bark of a tree, it is Service that helps to define and preserve who we are as a community. We may not all agree on the same theological issues, we may not all desire to participate in church in the same ways…but all of us are drawn together by a shared desire to improve, enhance, heal, and brighten the lives of others…because we have been improved, enhanced, healed, and brightened by being here. If we spend too much time looking at our own belly buttons, Service is what draws us out, focusing our attention on those in need. If we are uncertain about our direction, our path, our value, how to spend our time or our talent or our treasure…the desire to Serve Others will guide us and define us.
It is my assumption that at least one of these categories will resonate with you. It is my assumption that what determines the health of our community are the same criteria that determine the health of God’s Natural Creation, like trees. Perhaps this way of thinking helps you to understand what we all have in common…and how this common understanding can assist us in answering questions that have plagued us for years…and how this understanding can help us to have the conversations that will empower us to rediscover our shape, our function, our purpose in this particular moment in history.