Author Howard Friend, in his book Recovering the Sacred Center, recommends the exercise of describing the church as persons – complete with identities, stories and histories. When I was reflecting on that some time back, this scripture and poem came to mind.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone …”
by Andy Little
It would seem entirely appropriate to substitute “churches” for “children”. Churches, individually and collectively, have suffered from all manner of painful experiences and developed protective facades to enable them to survive emotionally, usually by allowing themselves to gloss over the painful parts of their history. Not so much different than individuals.
Churches in the U.S., just like in much of the West, show signs of being somewhere in the process of recovery – recovery from addiction not necessarily sickness. Unfortunately, many times it seems as though we’re stuck in the denial stage. We worry about becoming insignificant and dying, and we frantically try to find the world’s solutions to the situations that leave us insecure and afraid. But we fail to recognize that it may be our own facades – our fake faces – that make us irrelevant.
We develop tools to deal with our insecurity – business models, marketing plans and consumer driven assortments of programs – worldly models to solve a numbers problem. It seems we’re still stuck in blaming everything and everyone else – in denying our own complicity in the plight we face.
We are not yet at the stage where we can trust God completely. And so we trust only ourselves. Doesn’t it seem childish to believe that WE, humans, can plan for the survival of the church? Doesn’t it seem spiritually immature to think that, by copying the practices of a flawed political and economic strategy, WE will become the saviors of the church? Hmmm – doesn’t the church already have a savior?
So, maybe, its time to stop and be childlike – to be meek. By the way, that word in Greek doesn’t mean mild and diminutive – it means confidently humble and gentle. There’s strength in this meekness.
Perhaps the church should have the strength to ask simple questions like who and what we really are called to be. Is survival of the institution as we know it the most important concern we should have? Maybe we should examine ourselves honestly – dare to expose our soft underbellies – to be truthful with the world and ourselves.
And risk – risk being the church God intended. Risk, in a foolish display of passion and commitment to Jesus Christ, allowing God to provide the plan and security while we simply worry about loving God and our neighbor at least as much as ourselves.
Perhaps we should exhibit the kind of trust that God will heal and guide the church, despite not having the comfort of a material and quantifiable presence.