As a minister I think about church a lot...I mean A WHOLE LOT! It's my life, my vocation, my passion of sorts, so it's natural that it would occupy my mind most of the time. Lately, however, I've been thinking more intentionally about church. I haven't been thinking about the usual stuff (sermons, events, Sunday school lessons, etc.); I've been thinking about why we even do church in the first place. Why does the congregation I lead even bother to meet? We are in a county of Alabama where there are at least 85 or so other congregations that are not too dissimilar from ours in terms of worship style, general practice, and doctrine. There are well over 100 churches in and around our city doing good things--"getting people saved," feeding hungry mouths, giving people gas money, etc.-- so why is it necessary that we exist? Is it even necessary at all?
Of course, I could easily extend that question to myself. There are hundreds of Christians in and around my community, and many of them are doing Christian service, sharing their faith, giving their time and their money. So what makes me different? Should I be different?
Of course, it depends on who you ask as to what sort of answer you'll get to those kinds of questions, but here are some of my thoughts. First of all, I do think there is a necessity for the congregation of which I am a part. Why? For the very reason I pose such a question: there are all of these congregations that surround us, yet there are so many people who get overlooked because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or their particular socio-economic situation. It is precisely because there are so many other churches holding "Hell houses," preaching sermons that only focus on the necessity of some sort of conversion experience, declaring that they have the exclusive extension to the Almighty (and if they don't, well they do have a nice gymnasium and daycare). There are a lot of congregations in my tradition that do the same things, so I think our congregation stands a chance for reasonable existence if we are different. Of course, that is the big issue: how are we/will we be different?
Different, however, isn't the only answer. There are a lot of congregations doing genuine gospel work, living like Christ. Truth be told, most of them aren't in my Christian tradition, and I actually kind of like that. It gives our congregation a chance to bridge denominational and theological gaps, to begin healing wounds in our community that extend beyond our congregation and living generations. So rather that just striving to be different from the buffet of similar congregations, we may also strive to be like our brothers and sisters of different denominational stripes.
I guess in the end what I am trying to say, is that the "same ole, same ole" just doesn't seem to be what Christ had/has in mind for His Church. It's time to be different. The world expects us to be different, but not in a crazy "I protest funerals, beg for money, and claim to heal cancer" kind of way. We ought to be different in a "I love you despite my own prejudices, contexts, and ignorance, because Christ has loved me despite all those things" sort of way. We ought to be about sharing our faith with our actions and not some formulaic speech, pre-packaged program, or alliterative abbreviation. We ought to be different in that we show the love of Christ with every breath we take, rather than scaring the hell out of people with over-the-top productions of judgment and damnation.
And that goes for the individual as much as the congregation. After all, that is where true revival begins. Not in the presence of a shouting, red-faced, sweating preacher, but in the real, loving presence of Jesus the Christ in the everyday instances of a true believer's life.
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