God, not Church

As I woke up this morning, it was 4:30am.  I could just see the blue of the morning sky out of my east window facing Lake Michigan.  I was unable to sleep well this morning.  My mind was busy with things that need attention in Chicago Mission Center. 

I’ve been in my role as Chicago Mission Center President for three months now.  I continue to learn alot.  While I expected to have challenges, seeing the challenges the church faces from this side of things has had a real impact on me. 

I believe in the relationship between theology and practice.  One of the things that called me back to full-time ministry was the opportunity to have one foot rooted in the spiritual practice of theological study, while another foot anchored deep in realities of the church.   (…and balancing all that with the demands of fatherhood!)   I’ve remained active in church most my life, so I knew there were disconnects between belief and practice there.  But, I continue to be amazed at the gap that exists between much of what we claim as a denomination and what really motivates us as a people, especially in many of our congregations.  The problem is not just that “we talk the talk, but don’t walk the talk” thing.  Sometimes, I’m not sure I even hear “the talk.”   There’s a lot going on here, and getting a good understanding of what’s really brought us here is no insigificant challenge. 

An insight came in a Pastor’s meeting we had yesterday.  In that meeting, a number of the pastors talked openly about the responsibility they feel in their roles as Pastor.   It wasn’t just that being a pastor was a big responsibility.  It is.  Bu, what they were getting at is how much depends on them just to keep the church running.  Whether it is just keeping services going, visiting the sick, or trying to organize youth or outreach ministries, so much of the responsibility of the church falls to them.  I sensed the felt a tremendous amount of obligation and pressure.  And, I empathized with them!

Church has become “the reason” why we do so much of what we do in the church.  To take a step back, it’s fascinating what kind of spell “the church” can have on us.  And, ironically, it’s equally amazing how immune so many people outside church are to that spell!

While I know there are exceptions that prove the rule, I think one of challenges we face in Community of Christ congregations is precisely this question of the connection between theology and practice.  What do we profess?  What do you really believe?  How do we live out that belief?  What really motivates us?   Answers comes up when we take a real inventory of where our daily and weekly commitments lie, where we make our sacrifices, and where our emotional investment really is. 

What’s really at the heart of it all ?  An institution we want to see survive, a tradition, a building?  Or, the Spirit of new life, the Living movement of God-with-us?   Church, or God? 

It’s a spiritual question, and reflecting on it takes a certain amount of courage.  Why do we give our lives to the church?  Is it our congregation, our identity, the campground, or the profound experiences we had in church as an adult or young person?  Or, are we grounded in a relationship with God?  A Living God?  

For many of us in the church, I think we can give our answer too quickly.   Struggling with this question is difficult.  Honesty about it, I think, can be devastating.  It’s a question that takes us into a real and living tension.  Yet, it is crucial that we know the difference, that we can keep God and church distinct. 

Who Jesus was provides a profound insight, here.  What was Jesus’ relationship to “the church?” 

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4 responses to “God, not Church

  1. Thoughtful and right on the mark as always Matt. Your comments were right in line with a sermon that I heard at our Tuesday night congregation about ‘our will versus God’s will’. This person pointed out that fundamentally at the heart of the gospel the will of God isn’t all that difficult to figure out (loving ourselves, loving our neighbors, giving back to our communities, justice for the least and lost), yet for some reason (I have my own thoughts on this)we lack our own will to work on God’s will. I think this is because our culture is caught up in this dualism between the shame based society we live in that tells us that we will never be enough, and this somewhat inherent desire as Christians to be more and do more in the world. That’s just my thought and rant after reading your blog. Intriguing as always. Peace my brother!!

  2. Matt, the questions you pose are very appropriate to our time. Questions we either ignore and/or don’t ask ourselves often enough. The basic “why” of what we do. As pastor I am currently struggling with this basic question in relation to our worship. Is what we’re trying to do a response to our culture or our relationship with God? Even beyond this one issue the questions strike to the core of our existence and practice as a congregation. Perhaps they’re questions to be posed to the congregation as a whole? Thanks…I think :o) God’s Blessings!

  3. Matt, I am reminded of my own experience pastoring in a small contemporary congregation. The balance between what I believe, what I felt the church beliefs are and the needs of the congregation was difficult. I personally burned out on trying to be the voice for the church and for what I felt God was urging me to say and be and the needs of people and families in the congregation. It seemed that way too much energy went into being church verses being spiritual. So, I guess I am feeling resonance in what you say. I felt unable to be totally honest and real and be pastor of a congregation. I will always marvel at those who find the role of pastor pleasant and fulfilling.

  4. “Church has become “the reason” why we do so much of what we do in the church. To take a step back, it’s fascinating what kind of spell “the church” can have on us. And, ironically, it’s equally amazing how immune so many people outside church are to that spell!”

    This is so true! What a thought-provoking paragraph!!!

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