The Way Ahead (for the Church)

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about what the way ahead is going to look like for the Church. You may ask... why me? Well, my only answer for that is that anyone to whom that question occurs should think about it. If that person is in a leadership position in a church, they should think even harder. If that person feels called by God to bring renewal to that same Church, they should not stop thinking about it. I am all three. I think about this a lot.

I think best when I break things down into smaller observations (like thin slicing). After thinking them through, I can usually draw out some salient connections. That is what is going to happen here. Well, that AND this is all about what we SHOULD be doing and where we SHOULD be heading. If you want a list of things we need to stop, that post was just recently written so that this one was cleanly positive.

A practical, active faith

For too long, faith for most people has been about sitting and listening. For too long, we have received and received and received until it has begun to feel totally normal to be spiritually self-centered. I believe that when Jesus said "thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven" he was announcing a core tenant of our faith. He was talking about an outwardly-focused group of God-Lovers who were actively trying to make earth a little bit more like heaven and a little less like the messed up place they used to live. Paul said, let me show you my faith by what I do. AMEN!

We need to DO something. There are hurting, hungry, naked, cold, and ignorant people in a world where there is more than enough food, fabric and books for those not to be problems! I'm not talking about launching multi-national non-profit corporations. I am talking about you and I taking some sandwiches to hungry people downtown, or sending vitamins to an orphanage in Africa.

Small, Organic Community

I think that the way ahead includes a renewed focus on the small. By that I do not mean arbitrarily throwing complete strangers into a small group where they watch some rich pastor on a screen. I mean friends going to get coffee and talking about the Bible. I mean a couple of families finding ways to pray for their neighbors. I mean those groups coming together to worship and break bread together. There's an interesting thing called the Rule of 150 or Dunbar's number. The Rule of 150 basically says that because of several factors (some of which are biological) the largest effective community size is 150. Once it grows larger, people feel anonymous and disconnected. I believe that churches should find ways to respect this rule, and try not to have community gatherings (like weekly worship services) exceed 150. This is not to say that churches cannot be larger than 150, but that larger churches should have as their goal to be gatherings of many 150 groups.

Why? Because when you are in a smaller gathering, you feel like you are part of what is happening. You feel like your presence is missed. You feel like you are NEEDED. That encourages members who are not passive card-punchers but actively-involved shareholders. This is a section that will deserve its own post soon, but I will stop here for now.

A Return to Mysticism.

We believe that, though we are mortals, we can reach out and commune with the creator of the universe. That is a mystical belief. Don't get me wrong, I love science, but our faith exists in the realm of the mystic. For too long we have ignored communing with the Almighty through the ancient practices of Christian mystics and have lost the insight and wonder those practices afford. It is time to recover our mystical roots. It is time to spend an hour in silent meditation on the scriptures. It is time to learn how to truly listen to the voice of God. It is time to follow as the Almighty leads us into places of divine union.

A Primitive Faith

Throughout the centuries there have been movements (Wesley's methodist groups being one of those) that have reinterpreted the message of Christ to a new culture. One of the things I have noticed in my study is that many, if not all, share this idea of a return to what they call the "primitive" faith. By primitive the reformers and theologians have not meant backwards, uneducated, or any other negative connotation we have; rather, they have been calling for a return to Christianity in its original form. This is the same call that was heralded by Hybels, Warren, and others as an "Acts 2" faith. The goal is to recover something that was lost along the path that our religion has taken from Jerusalem to the Internet.

What has been lost? I see a couple right now, though I am sure there are many others. They are the concluding two sections.

Faith Rooted in Heritage and History

This is not just our heritage from the Gospels on, but our roots with Abraham Isaac and Jacob. There was a clear connection, and struggle at times, with the Jewish faith. In fact many of our rituals/sacraments were originally being performed by Jesus and His disciples in a Jewish setting. The baptism was a mikveh. The communion was a passover meal. And on and on.

This is one reason why so many people latch on to Rob Bell's rabbinical teachings. We are hungering for a faith that is rooted in something more than audience analysis and market research. We want to experience the Rock of Ages and see our part in His epic saga. Our teaching and discussion needs to engage with our full, ancient history as much as possible in the most interesting ways. I say everyone should decide on their favorite Rob Bell-type history-rich teacher/preacher and get that teacher's recommended reading list. And read it of course.

A United Body of Christ

There is nothing more odd to me than the sometimes hair-splitting, sometimes joking and sometimes venomous separations that exist within the Body of Christ. When I read the writings of the early church fathers, I see a constant conviction to ONE church. The people closest in time to Jesus' incarnation saw this as something worth fighting and sacrificing for. Huge compromises and incredibly long discussions centered around preventing any sort of significant split or schism.

Sometimes it seems like we couldn't be further from that commitment. What does that breed? The competition that I address in the post "10 Things Churches Need to Stop." I believe we need to rekindle the passion to break down the walls that separate Protestants and Catholics, Eastern Orthodox from Messianic Jews and come together as the Body of Christ. I think this diverse palette of expressions all supporting each other and coming together to make positive changes in our world will be more of a witness to the power of God than almost anything we can do.

Is this naive? Probably. Is this overly optimistic? Definitely. But this is the way it needs to be! Those who feel this way need to start acting together. We need to start collaborating. By our actions of unity we will expose the foolishness of separation and live into what I think was a clear passion of Jesus, the disciples, the apostles and the early Church Fathers (Jn 17:21, 1 Cor 1:10, etc). Will we ever again live in a world where there is a single church with a single man at its helm? Probably not, but we can connect these severed limbs and become a viable organism again. It will be hard; it will take a lot of work; it will make everyone involved repeatedly furious. But, it is necessary if we are to be the Church God desires.

The Way Ahead

Here's what I am proposing. Since it is clear to almost every person considering the issue that we are either in the middle of or coming to the end of a huge cultural shift from the modern age to the postmodern one, we need to change now. I believe we need to start acting so that we can make some mistakes and find the right path as soon as possible that leads to a clear expression of Christianity in a postmodern era. Do we abandon all that has worked in the past? Absolutely Not! Much of that is needed to help us make the transitions, and I believe a good bit will need only minor tweaks.

We cannot afford to allow our faith to become irrelevant and die because we were afraid to try new things. There is no excuse for our fear of the unknown to stop us from reaching a world full of people who need Jesus but have no interest in the current expression of Christianity. I don't know about you, but I refuse to watch the only viable hope for mankind suffocate because we are afraid some people might join a different church. Nor will I allow this transition to be as horribly wounding as the Great Schism or the Reformation. This must be a healing. It must be a rejoining.

I guess what I'm saying is: not on my watch!