"This exodus the Christian church is experiencing is an opportunity for a great awakening, but it's hard for those who don't want to let go (of the past, control, limited definitions, fear) to see this. They refer to the church as being in crisis or dying when really it's a rebirth."
I was in conversation the other day with a colleague. We began to talk about the church -- how folks are leaving it -- and his belief that to be Christian means being in the church. I listened, with keen ears, but realized after several seconds that I should ask, from his perspective, what "the church" meant, before I commented.
Many of us have different definitions of the church -- pretty much derived from our experiences and how we were introduced to it. I couldn't agree with his statement until I knew where he was coming from. Is the church a building? A denomination? A belief system (and whose)? The body of Christ?
He said the church was the assembly of believers in Christ. Oh, okay, putting it that way, I thought, I can see how "the church" is essential for Christians.
"So that doesn't mean going to a church building on Sunday mornings?" I asked, since being in assembly with other believers can and does occur outside of the church's edifice. He paused before responding, "That's part of it."
I left our smoothie midday snack break pondering what Jesus would think of the church. Yes, I know the church was established by Paul or perhaps Mary Magdalene, but since it's in the name of Jesus, I found myself wondering what would Jesus do and think about the church (especially today); and how would I define it?!
An interesting paradox
As many churches as I have been in, as much as I have gone to church services, I never consciously thought of what "the church" is. I know of the creeds, the history and doctrine, the polity, but how would I define the church?
How would you?
If someone who didn't know the concept of the church, had never been and never heard of it stumbled upon the word and asked you what it meant or what it was, how would you respond? Would your answer be based on what you were told as a child, what you've experienced as an adult, what you hope the church is, or what you believe God's vision of the church is?
In contemplating my answer, I thought of church as I've known it, went back to read scriptures, and examined what I feel God has been showing me for the past year. What I found is an interesting paradox: I'm not angry or hurt or disillusioned about the church as I have come to know it (though years ago I was), yet I see God speaking to me in ways that don't completely fit what I've experienced as a church goer. Rather, it's an extension of sorts... a bringing more of my authentic (artistic yet contemplative) self into how I think and worship corporately.
Many researchers are saying the Christian church is in decline because of the drastic numbers of members leaving. I think this is a narrow perspective of what it means to be Christian and active in the faith. The face of the church is changing. Just because some are leaving the traditional church doesn't mean they are leaving Christ. Actually, I believe people leave sometimes to get closer to Christ, to experience his love and guidance and teachings in a new way. God said that He would do a new thing; will you not know it? (Isaiah 43:19)
Our call to Christ is on many levels but we cannot fulfill this internal and external call if we are not in relationship -- chest to chest, heart to heart -- with our Creator. The church is and can be a vehicle for discernment and growth, but when politics and form replace the wisdom teachings of Jesus, when the church ignores the cries of its people and the community-at-large, when it stops proclaiming the Gospel and true ministry and focuses on finances, then the church is no longer used to the glory God and the edification of others, those in the assembly suffer, and those who know Christ through them begin to doubt.
This exodus the Christian church is experiencing is an opportunity for a great awakening, but it's hard for those who don't want to let go (of the past, control, limited definitions, fear) to see this. They refer to the church as being in crisis or dying when really it's a rebirth. It's the space between the trapeze bars I wrote about last week in "The In-Between Space." It's a paradigm shift. And as God would have it, when something is reborn or shifting, it becomes new.
Remember the gospel song, "I looked at my hands and my hands looked new...?" Well, are the hands new or are the eyes/perception what's been changed? Same with the church. Whether ministry is happening in a church building or outside of one, whether a Believer has a church home or not, this faith journey is giving us a new opportunity to have new eyes and see God and to do ministry differently.
What's the vision?
My imagining what the church looks like in a way that speaks to my heart and spirit has led me into even greater communion with God. It can be a frightening thing to step out and do something different than what you've known or seen the masses do (remember Peter and the boat?).
When I tell traditional faith believers about SoulSpace, they seem to get nervous. It's a different concept (though it's not "the church" nor is it to replace it), so I understand them scratching their heads when I describe it as space where Believers can be free and converse, make art, read scripture, feel safe, dance, laugh, and look in each others eyes and grow. That it's space where you come as you are and are not be put upon. Space where we take time in community to seek and hear from God, to pray for discernment, to work out our calling. Space to be challenged but supported. Space to explore in the Spirit without being afraid of judgment or chastisement. Space to lay burdens down. That it's space where the heart sits with God and hears and is honored.
I believe it is part of God's design for us to have a space like this here and now. I believe a space like this needs to exist -- whether inside of a church building or not -- and in some communities it already does. It exists in heaven and I believe God's Will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. No matter how many leave "the church," or transform it into something we haven't known before, or call it something else, I believe nothing can stop God's plan for His church.
I think it's time to stop being critical about "the church" and time to step out on the vision God has presented to you. How can you make a difference right where you are or is He moving you somewhere else? What are you seeing as you sit during your Centering Prayer or meditation time? What are you seeing in your dreams? What is God showing you about a space and a place He has called forth? What is your part in bringing it about? Know that what He shows you may not be what He's shown anyone else; and though the vision may be unpopular that doesn't mean it's wrong.
What are you seeing?
To find out how to join us as SoulSpace, visit http://www.3rdspaces.com/soulspace.html