I’ve read a number of articles and blog posts over the last several years about the Church losing it’s way (Landon Whitsitt and John Vest among others). I used to think we were finding our way again, but I think Landon is on to something. Have we succumbed too deeply to the temptations of “bigger is better”? As I read the gospels I understand Jesus had the inner twelve, but often the texts allude to hundreds that followed him or came out to hear him as he traveled, if not nearly 5,000. He had no building, he had no Christian Education program, no order of worship, no committees. He wasn’t building a Church in the modern sense, but a community in the ancient sense.
I wonder if what we need to be looking toward is seeking to rediscover our sense of connection with and reliance upon one another. Early in my time as a youth director and pastor I relied heavily on programs and spent much of my energy trying to create a “moment” for people to experience. The one major factor I failed to consider more often than not was the people themselves. Our base desires are not for more programs and flashy lights, though we might comment first on these superficial dressings. Our base desires as relational beings have more to do with making connections with others that will feed and sustain us emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. In fact, don’t we learn about ourselves first and mostly through our reflection and deflection of other people (parents, siblings, friends, etc.)? I learn my hot temperedness by observing people who are both hot and even tempered. I watch and I realize what I might look like when I fly off the handle and realize I don’t want to look like that. I see even tempered folks and wonder what is happening inside them—are they raging and just not showing it, or are they really able to stay that calm in a situation that to me is outrageous? I also observe people’s reaction to me at different times. In the process, I learn about myself.
We are relational beings from the very start. A baby comes out of the womb and immediately forms a bond with her mother. Have you seen the videos where the newborn is placed on the mother’s tummy and instinctively seeks out nourishment from the mother’s breast? Of course, this instant connection is often troublesome for fathers because we aren’t sure how we fit into the equation beyond observing (though I believe the bond between child and father does come, it is different). My point is that we form bonds early in life and those bonds form us and reform us: I remember all my teachers, whether or not they are able to remember me among the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of children they have taught; I remember my youth group leaders when I was a teenager, though I really don’t remember much of what they said during Bible study.
In my faith tradition (Presbyterian) we get pretty caught up in words. In fact our whole form of worship is shaped around “The Word”—namely the reading of scripture and sermons—understanding that through these things the Word of God can be revealed to us. It’s easy for us to lose sight of the relational center of what we’re doing and who we are being called to be. As our churches shrink we get distracted by things we believe will “sell” our church to others: programs, nice facilities, projection screens (because that’s what the big churches do), etc. But is this what Jesus asked his disciples to do?
Yes, he said share the gospel (the good news of God’s love and redemption). But he talked a lot more about how we do that in terms of how we live every day in relation to the people with whom we live and work. Others far greater than I have said that this faith thing we’re doing is a journey wherein along the way we may experience the presence of God in so many awe-inspiring ways. In fact, the early Christians were called “followers of the Way of Jesus.” As I consider what is happening with the Church today, I can’t help but consider how many layers we have put on Jesus’ ministry. I think what is happening now is that all those layers are worn out. The