A life, such as mine, spent in church leadership soon teaches one that he/she needs a great sense of humor. Persons engage the church with all kinds of ambitions, agenda, demands, expectations, persons who take themselves quite too seriously … and often with very little understanding of what the church even is. The church defies human definition, primarily, because it is of divine origin, and with a divine purpose, and with a divine habitation. To be sure, it has very porous boundaries, but it has an awesome purpose in that it is to be the recreation of the human community, and its first-born is Jesus Christ. It is into his image and likeness that all those who come are to be formed.

In a recent Blog, I spoke of those who seemed perennially passive participants, and who never seemed to get the message and become part of its dynamic mission. Perhaps it is because they never asked the question: What is the purpose of this Christian community? What does it require of me if I identify with it as a participant? What would be my role? What would I gain, and what would I have to renounce?

I frequently ponder the incredible and very rapid expansion of Google from an idea to a huge enterprise including tens of thousands of employees How do they maintain their integrity? How do they keep everyone engaged fruitfully? Well, you see, Google is a human enterprise, and when one aspires to become an employee, then there is a very disciplined procedure.  First of all, there is little question of why Google exists and what it does. The company researches the person behind the application thoroughly, so there are few secrets about his/her gifts. Then, if they are invited for an interview, they are asked the question, right up front: Why do you want to come to work for Google? Then what would you bring to the company? Do you understand the work ethic, the accountability, and the dynamics of our working groups? Etc.

The church can’t do all of that. The  church is made up of people who bring to this New Creation community only their need of such, their need to be reconciled to God, and to be agents of reconciliation to others. They cannot come making demands upon it, or offering their human accomplishments as credentials, or even their spiritual amibitions. It all begins with Christ’s calling to forsake all and follow him, and then it requires that all become respondents to Christ’s great commandment: “That you love one another as I have loved you,” i.e., that you engage in self-giving, self-sacrificing, servant love to one another, and so demonstrate what this New Humanity is all about.

Those who come to this Christian community with motives of self-fulfillment, of some personal ambition or agenda, and demand that it measure up to their standards, … prove at the outset that they have never responded to Christ’s call and commandment to self-sacrificing love for one another.  Because—face it! —the church is weird, and filled with all kinds of evidences of the need of God’s grace, … and his calling is that we be agents of that grace to one another. That’s why, along with being agents of Christ’s reconciling love to one another in the restoration of true community, that we need a robust sense of humor.

Those who don’t get this essence will always be strangers, they will never truly join/identify, they will become part of that ever present, never satisfied, company of ecclesiastical vagabonds, going from church to church, but never becoming responsive to the church-building presence of the Spirit of God. The alternative is the life-giving presence of Christ to one another, and the creation of his New Humanity with the most unlikely components—us!

[If you want to pursue this thesis, I highly recommend Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. It’s a classic, and was written under the most stressful and dangerous circumstances.]

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About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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