Today is a decisive day in American politics and I have fortune and misfortune of being away from the country so I miss all of the hype of the presidential primary season. As I look at the candidates I am excited to see that at least this election will come with some new choices for American voters. We will have either an African American (Obama) or a woman (Clinton) on one side and we will have a republican who is willing to admit that his ideas change in time (McCain) or a Billionare (Romney)... okay so the billionare thing has been done before. Either way we look at it, we will see some type of change in the country, for better or for worse.
Without making an official endorsement for anyone or responding to any of his specific ideas, I did want to mention something that Barack Obama said that caught my attention,
" Today, you can join nearly half the nation in saying that we are tired of business-as-usual in Washington, we are hungry for change, and we are ready to believe again."
I know that this is a typical rhetoric among politicians but allow me to take these words and move them to the church. From this point on I will post an idea every week or two called "The Shaping of the Church" and it is intended to involve all of you in a conversation that will hopefully lead to the formation of some healthy ideas. For now, I want to begin with Obama's words for the nation, "Today, you can join nearly half the nation in saying that we are tired of business-as-usual in Washington, we are hungry for change, and we are ready to believe again."
As for me, I am tired of business as usual in American churches, I am hungry for change, and I am ready to believe again". I'm tired of basing the success of the church by the number of attendees or the money that comes in. I am tired of pastors giving simple sermons that they have been giving for years seemingly out of obligation and not an excitement for new discoveries of truth. I am tired of churches saying they "accept everyone" but get incredibly uncomfortable when "everyone" walks through their doors.
I have seen enough "church models" mimicked in communities all over the country in hopes that "mega-churches" will be duplicated. I have witnessed too many pastors and other leaders sacrifice their families, friends, and their own personalities, "in the service of the Lord". I am disgusted when the church works to follow the corporate model of leadership and labors to keep "the shareholders" pleased (I will address the "shareholders" at another time). I am done with the endless desire to build bigger buildings and bigger programs (buildings and programs are not necessarily bad, but how many needless buildings are built for image?)
I lose hope in this system when I hear endless stories of people feeling "burned" or rejected by their church and the leadership. I am angered when church leaders and/or volunteers hurt innocent kids and ignore the needs of the under-privileged or the justice of the oppressed. I grow weary with each story from those who are not followers of Jesus who say they don't want anything to do with the God of "those Christians" because Christians are not kind or pleasant.
I believe that the Church (the Bride of Christ) is a good thing and it is necessary for joining with God in His redemptive work on earth. Rob Bell, the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Church in Michigan, refers to the Bride of Christ as a beautiful thing. He goes so far as naming their church's conference the "Isn't she beautiful" conference. The problem is that for many, the bride is not beautiful, she is ugly.
As my family considers plans to return to the country and lead a church, we are wrestling with the desire to make the Church better in the process. It is time for me to believe again and to be a part of a movement that helps others believe again. I do believe that a gathering of followers (and people searching for truth) of the Risen Messiah can live in a way that causes others to believe again. I do believe that we can be a part of a movement that revolutionizes the Bride of Christ. Maybe I'm crazy but I guess I just have the "audacity to hope".
So here is an assignment. Read Isaiah 1 (which is about Jerusalem around 700 BC) and let us look for the heart of God. Let us take this passage out of context slightly and apply it to churches you know. If we were part of a renewed movement, what are some things it should (or should not) look like?