At a recent meeting at the church, we were discussing how important it is to emphasize the positive, good, and effective ministry, activities, and practices in our faith community. We have every reason to be grateful and joyful. As a people of God, as part of the household and family of faith stretching throughout the generations and centuries, we are and remain “children of God”, and if children, “then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:14-17) God considers us, and so we need to consider ourselves, as a deeply loved, precious people: “A royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” (1 Peter 2:9)
At the same time, whether part of the church or not, we humans are broken, imperfect and wounded. And so, as many of us who’ve been part of the church would attest to, occasions for disappointment, hurt, and dismay inevitably and frequently arise. Acknowledging this reality, we need however to acknowledge a more important reality: the church has been gifted with a message, a mission, and word of healing, loving justice, and the promise of experiencing the presence of God in Jesus in its midst. As “joint heirs of God in Christ” we are called to life-long learning to trust joyfully in the Holy One, God “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) We are forever secure in God.
And so, even though the church as a human institution can at times feel like “a mess”, we have, and indeed experience, Jesus, who promised to be with his disciples forever. As someone once said, the church “is sort of like Noah’s ark. It’s a stinky mess inside, but if you get out, you’ll drown.”
Part of what it means to have a positive and joyful approach to “all things church”, is to be committed to its continual renewal, in every generation, time and place. As some church historians have pointed out, every few hundred years the church gets cluttered by the materialism of the world around it. We begin to forget who we are. One bishop said, “And so every five hundred years or so the church needs a rummage sale” to get rid of the clutter, and to remember the essential treasures of our faith.
Practically, what this means for us as we vision and set out goals for the next several years, is to focus on the ancient, yet incredibly relevant practices of the Christian faith – prayer, meditation, study, care and support groups, regular worship, intentional service to others in community, invitation. We already do many of these practices, but need to re-affirm, deepen, and celebrate these.
As even Willow Creek Community Church north of Chicago discovered, the road to deeper discipleship and spiritual renewal is to re-engage spiritual practices, not “programs.” For the longest time, Willow Creek, like many churches, have thought that renewal came about by developing the right “program” aimed at attracting people to church and deepening their faith. But over the years, through a process of self-study, they realized that “church programs” had little to do with spiritual depth, congregational vitality, or maturity. Senior Pastor Bill Hybels admitted: “We made a mistake by being overly dependent on programs at the expense of the age-old spiritual practices of prayer, Bible reading, and relationships.”
Let’s remember and re-affirm the essential treasures of our faith, the age-old yet enduring and proven practices which enliven us, renew us, and do the important thing of helping us joyfully trust in our risen Lord.
Pastor David Malina