Always around this time of year, I think about how we're doing with our stated mission to help people discover and follow the God who is far more than they imagine. We're four an a half years into this deal. So where should we be by now, compared to where we are? What are we getting right or doing pretty well in line with this mission? What are we more talking about doing than actually doing? Where are we building a head of steam, and where are we wandering in circles or just sitting self-absorbed? All good questions deserving some thought, I think.
At the end of last year, I began wondering about what I've noticed is a tendency for churches to gradually, after they've established their identity and culture as a community, to settle into a kind of equilibrium of "what we believe and how we do things around here." Whether their ecclesiology is "pre-packaged" as a particular flavor of Baptist, Episcopal or Presbyterian, etc., or a cobbled-together amalgam of the best of all current Christian missional paradigms, they operate from a particular theological, spiritual, and cultural vantage point which embody core values and practices from the most formal to the most relaxed, and everything in between.
It's how all organizations work for that matter unless there are forces which."irritate" the status quo.
More about that later. I need to first define equilibrium:
"A body in equilibrium experiences no acceleration, and unless disturbed by an outside force, will remain in equilibrium indefinitely; any unchanging condition or state of a body, system, etc.; [it will] remain in stable equilibrium - small disturbances to the system [will] cause only a temporary change before it returns to its original state."
In other words, unless there is some type of regularly occurring, and systemic irritant, the group, team or organization gradually stabilizes into an ordered sleepwalk of benign spiritual inertia. In churches, "the way we've always done it," gradually calcifies into "the way we'll always do it." The only people who seem to mind are the pioneers, visionaries and creatives, (and we all know they're just crazy).
In turn, the church's spiritual life centers on Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, weekly Bible studies, ministry meetings, fellowship groups, and church programs, with an occasional missions trip rounding out the year. It all takes on a life of its on and will on into perpetuity.
Unless...the church embraces the unhinged idea that we're not here for ourselves, but mostly for them out there beyond our walls. You can call them unbelievers, "secular" people, the unregenerate, unsaved or that wonderfully warm term of endearment: pagans. No matter the term. If a church decides it needs to serve the surrounding community first and foremost, spiritual equilibrium is in serious jeopardy.
Here's why: if those folks "out there beyond our walls" show up and stick around, they create dis-equilibrium and sometimes "you think you're gonna go crazy" chaos. They are the "irritant" I'm referring to.They don't know our rules. They don't cherish our traditions. They haven't the correct language. They smoke to much, drink too much, and sometimes even smell. They challenge stuff in the Bible, and ask tough questions many believers have few answers for. They might be addicts, have a different take on sexual morals than we, use words we don't in front of each other, or they just aren't enamored with our particular brand of spiritual equilibrium. They can introduce a level of messy that scares or offends us, exposing our pride and intolerance just below the Sunday surface.
Reality is, we need their "messy" to actually be the church in the community (not the church in the church); the Kingdom in the world; the light in the darkness, and the hope in the blinded despair. We have to work hard at getting to know them, and love them more than our well-managed equilibrium. The Jesus adventure is most in their world, not in our sanctuaries.
Therefore, the church which resolutely turns in their direction, and heads courageously into their world more than it stays in its own, begins to overcome the spiritual numbing of equilibrium. The "irritant" ends up to be a gift freeing us from illusion and well-trod complacency. It stretches us because we can't rely on the comfortable familiar, the normal and the predictable. Broken people don't often "fix" that easily, and they need someone to patiently persevere genuinely. It's in the persevering with the broken the church comes to living/ALIVE. The "irritant" creates new spiritual maturing, grace abounds, love for strangers becomes less uncomfortable, and the way of Jesus comes to the fore as the way the church lives as the Church in the community.
Wouldn't that be something.
All blessing to the courageous champions and apostles of the missional, Kingdom way today!