“Go and make disciples of all nations.” – the commission of Jesus to his church
“The only obstacle that church leadership faces in better organizing itself around Christ’s commission is their love for the church members.” – Yours Truly
“Love never stopped Jesus from progression toward his mission. Love fueled it.” – Yours Truly
I love the church. Always have for as long as I can remember.
Interestingly, as I survey my life, I can identify different stages and expressions of that love. By doing that, I can better see what stage I am in now, and then maybe even predict (or is it imagine?, or is it create?) how I will express it in my old age.
In the beginning, I looked to the church with excitement. By beginning, I really do mean it, because I was born into a church-going family. In my earliest memories, church represented a welcome and fun interruption to my otherwise somewhat ordinary week. There were other excitements in my life, but none as reliable and steadfast as “going to church” regularly as a kid. I remember loving nursery care, fun classes, loud singing, energetic puppet shows, new friends, and along with all of it, a sense of importance behind everything we were doing that went beyond what we were doing.
At some point, I began to look to the church with comfort. It was what I was used to and could depend on. It became a friend, and I’m not just talking about the people. I could rely and anchor something deep in my soul to the rituals that my church used in their services. Two songs, a prayer, a song, a scripture reading, a song, a sermon, and song with an invitation to walk to the front, and then dismissal. It became a rhythm that was so normal and assumed, like breathing or mealtimes, that any interruption or variation was at a minimum very noticeable, and at a maximum, unacceptable.
It’s a blurry boundary that I can’t pinpoint, but I began to look to the church with satisfaction. It was home. This “home” was not so much with the people there, but with the people who were satisfied with the same things I was. And all of us were satisfied with how we did church and equating how we did it with true Christianity. I guess that our church hit the balance of calling for enough sacrifice, while not calling for so much, that as long as I did what the church called for, I felt like a fully developed Christian. Which made me feel satisfaction.
But slowly and surely, and in pretty dramatic fashion, I started looking to the church with longing. This switch came through a combination of factors that conspired to make me into someone who wanted “more” from church. My own personal study of scripture was one of those factors (the life it called for didn’t seem to match up with what I was experiencing). A traumatic family event was another (my family moved outside the scope of functioning that the church was trained to handle). A third factor was the surfacing of some deep need within me for authentic, real relationships (the church said it was the community where I should find them, but I didn’t). Another was the awakening of a desire to make an actual difference in the world to actual people (the message of Jesus seemed to be the best way to do that, and I thought his message belonged to the church, but it often carried a slight but significant distortion of that message). All of this, and probably more, combined to make me look to the church as if it should deliver all this to me.
Having lost my satisfaction, and thinking the church should meet these longings, I began to look to the church with responsibility. The church is me, after all, and if the church isn’t meeting some of the many valid human longings that Jesus says he meets, then it is at least partially on me to transition the church into doing so. It sounds quite noble, empowering, and self-responsible, I know. But I think I’m currently shedding the last bit of residue of this stage, still feeling some of it, but it is quickly giving way to to something that looks the same outwardly, but is much healthier inwardly.
That is, I now look to the church with opportunity. The church is my opportunity to be a part of the community of people who relate with God and each other and the world in a way that delivers the most abundant life available to people.
All of these stages have been valid, useful, and shaping for me. All of these companions of mine, different expressions of my love for the church, have actually been necessary for the church to do with me what Jesus commissioned it to do… shape me more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. In this beautiful way, the church has fulfilled (and is fulfilling) it’s great commission…to make a disciple of me.
It’s interesting to look back and observe that as I was experiencing each one, each stage seemed to be the pinnacle of love for the church.
And in a way, I guess each one was…for me…at the time.
I hope you can see as clearly as I the thread of God’s activity in and through all of these stages. I’m grateful for and honor each one.
And to do that today is to own and fully engage with and enjoy the stage that I am currently in. So for today, I have been given the opportunity to shape the church (which, no matter what else it includes, means to shape myself) to reflect and offer the commission of Jesus Christ to my world a little bit better than it does right now. In this looking to the church with opportunity, and acting, I honor what it is God is doing to shape me with the church, and to shape the church with me.
Like all the stages, and contrary to what it feels like when in each one, it won’t last long. Way sooner than I may be comfortable with, this opportunity will be handed down to my kids. And they, above all else, help me stay diligent and desirous of not being wasteful of this stage…inasmuch as it has to do with me.
But when this stage passes, what is next? When I’m done looking to the church with opportunity, what will be left?
Love. Just love. I will look to the church with love. My imagination says that the next stage will not be needing any more qualifiers to try to describe how it is I’m showing that love. I should be agile enough, mature enough, and Christ-like enough to need nothing from it, to feel no burdensome or guilt-producing obligation to it, but only love…which produces whatever labor from me that will be demanded in each and every moment, no matter the cost. I will show love for everyone at every stage, and hopefully be useful as a guide for anyone at any stage, personally and relationally, to help anyone (inside or outside the church) take their next step towards the point of it all…intimacy and relationship with God.
This point of the church was the point of Jesus Christ. That is why the church is called Christ’s. And we each members of not just “it”…but “him.”
God help me.