Tonight at church I had a tiny epiphany. Pernell, our pastor was talking about the story in Luke 10 where Jesus tells 72 of his disciples to go out in pairs to tell people in the surrounding communities about the reign of God- to tell them about this new way of living, of freedom. Pernell explained that this was the mission of the church- all churches, the church writ large: we are to simply tell people about God’s kingdom- his love and care for us. We are to show it through our lives and in our actions. In light of this, churches don’t need individual mission statements- there is no “mission” apart from what I have said above -to live as citizens of God’s kingdom and to tell others about it. Talking about this got me thinking about all of the problems that I have with churches. Far too often it seems like churches are simply trying to sustain themselves, to have bigger congregations, to rebrand to appeal to more people, to be “relevant”, to be cool. The problem with this is that the church then exists to benefit itself and much of the good work the church does is out of a sense of benevolence (which can be good too) but is ultimately not enough. It seems like some churches just count it success by the number of “missionaries” it sends out to reach the “unchurched” – or count the number of kids at a youth night. The problem with this is that it is in a sense tokenism- what is the church doing when they are not “sending out missionaries” or “trying to reach the unreached.” It seems like the north american church has become so good at fulfilling the needs of individuals with in their church community- the church has in essence become a social service agency for it’s members- you need counselling, we’ve got it. You need spiritual formation, here’s the place. You want to feel good about serving, how about being an usher? You need to feel like you are fulfilling your christian duty, there’s a seat with your name on it….and so it goes.
Church- like the word Christian or feminist or even liberal- has become so nuanced that its meaning seems almost like it has been through a game of telephone with a new characteristic added with each pass of the “call”. For instance- we think church needs to happen in a building, with paid, professional staff- we think that we NEED to be involved in a church to be a “good ” christian. We think that churches need to cater to us as individuals- if you want me to attend your church, you better make sure that I am getting a good dose of holiness so I feel as though I am “growing in my walk.”
I have been thinking and rethinking about what the church is and should be a lot lately. Since our culture has gripped it’s firm hands around what our conception of church is, I figure that I can try to add my two cents. Pernell said tonight that a church should be a community that is sent…sent by God to respond to His reign- to live it out, with friends and neighbours and those we meet every day. He used Luke 10 to illustrate this to us and I was struck by the part where the disciples are told to take nothing with them as they go into the community- they are told to accept the hospitality, food and lodging of those they meet. I love this idea- these early Christians were sent out and they were expected to RECEIVE from those they were going to tell their good news to. How often today as Christians do we think that non-christians need to be “saved”- or because we have a monopoly on truth-WE are the givers and THEY are the receivers. This simply isn’t true. The nature of God is so good and wise and beautiful that when the disciples went out to share the kingdom of God- THEY were given things like shelter, food and drinks. They saw beauty, joy, love, and Jesus in their travels. They were blessed by those they were attempting to serve. This reminds me so much of a time when I was in the jungle in Ecuador in a tiny village with only 16 families. My favourite woman- with her baby tied to her back, took two of us into the jungle and cut down bananas, papayas, and mangos. And she gave them all to us. It was humbling and beautiful. This woman, who literally had NO shoes- gave us an abundance of fruit. We were the white, rich, know-it-all North Americans…we were supposed to be helping HER- but it was us that left with full hearts and hands.
I’m still trying to figure out what the disciples did when they got to the towns and into the homes of those they were going to talk of this “new way” to- what I do know is that there was probably a lot of good food and wine and discussion and laughter. I would like to live in such a way that the hope and joy and peace that I have seeps into all areas of my life- and I would love to sit around and talk to people about how incredible I think this whole story we find ourselves in actually is. Unfortunately- we often settle for more mundane topics of discussion or numbing television.
Today I feel like I understand things a little bit better- that everything is a little bit clearer, more focused, logical. Of COURSE we are supposed to let people give things to us- we are supposed to be helped-we owe it to people to LET them give to us. There is fullness in this conception of giving and receiving that could only created by the God that is does all things in a symbiotic and gracious manner.