When I think about the modern church two different images pop into my head. One image has a steeple, finely dressed people, organized leadership, and a checklist of ministries. I am sitting in the middle of this image and have been for the majority of my life. I love this image! It is home for me. I feel comfortable with this image. But the truth is many people are not comfortable with this image. For many people this image represents judgment, vengeful people, and not much love lost. This breaks my heart.
SMLThe second image in my head looks much less organized and much more dirty. It involves some type of shade (a tree, a shed, a closet). That shade may be to protect the gatherers from heat. It may be to protect them from sight. This image is not defined by structural finery, but by the hearts and stories of those gathered. Many in this image have dirty feet from having walked miles to meet here. Many bear scars for no more reason than meeting here, yet they continue to meet.
The first group makes commitments easily and forgets them quickly. The second group says “Yes” slowly because they know their “Yes’s” will change their lives. The first group sings songs because they’ve heard them on the radio or in person for a large part of their lives. The second group sings songs because worship is one of their primary means of survival. The first group offers obligatory prayers, almost as filler in the service to allow for offering takers to gather at the front or for the band to disembark from the stage. The second group lingers in prayer. They kneel until their legs to go sleep and their hearts want to leap from their chests. They pray out of privilege, not obligation. As much as I love the first image, it seems they are defined not by their disciple making abilities, but by the obligations they put on the disciple maker. One does not have to look far or listen much to learn that the second group is marked by seekers present only because the members of the Body have shared story after Gospel story with them until they cannot endure the pressure to come any longer. They must be there to investigate the truth of these disciples’ claims!
Is it possible for the first image to become more like the second image? Is it really possible? Is it possible for the first group to actually possess something the second group lacks?
I’ve listened to and taken part in the conversation to bring about change in the Western church for years. Most times the conversation is formed like the discussion above. We mark the clear distinctions between the two bodies gathering around the world (or the first image and the original image found in the book of Acts) and spend the rest of our time lamenting the lack of sincerity in the first. I do not find this conversation very helpful. Could we get off at another point? What if instead of choosing to lament, we choose to act?
What if there aren’t two churches in existence, but just one? What if our framing is flawed? What if we have become so bogged down in our comparisons and analyses that we have forgotten Jesus only married once?
The truth is we are all a part of this Bride, this Body, flawed and holy alike. We cannot escape each other. I suggest we spend our time listening to each other, rather than accusing each other.