Sunday, May 17, 2009

Everyone’s Quiet on the Elevator

Most of us know what it’s like to enter a packed elevator. You look to see if “your” button is already pushed. Even if it’s lit, you may push it again so you can own your destination. There is little said beyond a hushed “hello” and perhaps a slight nod. Everybody is quiet on the elevator (with the exception of my mother-in-law – and despite our ridicule about her over friendliness, she may be the only one who has it right).

I’m still in the de-programming mode. I have lived all of my 55+ years with a church-structured paradigm influenced by a secular mindset. I am now experiencing the difficult challenge of breaking away from the three-foot diameter “my space” field that surrounds my being 24/7. In other words, I am just now realizing that I am not solely responsible to be a singular “change-agent” among many other singular “change-agents” in my individualistic world.

That is precisely what the “church” promotes – even in its “contemporary” wrapper (my son has observed that “seeker-sensitive” and “come as you are” is the same ol’ church, but has an added “racing strip”).

In my last “church job” I was given the task to teaching about 12-15 times per year (every Sunday after Christmas, Easter and before Labor Day and Memorial Day were always a given). There was a certain model that we followed (which I was on board with whole-heartedly) that stressed the importance of “life-application” messages. This involved a “how-to” topic which was buttressed by proof-texting. The congregants were encouraged to follow along with a fill-in-the-blank slip of paper. The only corporate aspect to this ritual was everybody filled in their individual notes simultaneously when prompted by the speaker up front on the platform. The message was followed-up with a “slow-dance” tempo worship song and a “charge” to individually apply during the week what was taught. The leader would bid the mass farewell and implore them to come back next week to continue the “series.” I’ve learned that since I left, all the small groups are beckoned to follow a centralized curriculum that is based on the current series messages.

I don’t think it’s a fluke that the most effective and dynamic ministries that still take place within the confines of this specialized formed edifice, are those that occur in face to face community on Monday (recovery) and Tuesday (men in prayer) evenings.

I have greatly benefited lately from the writings of Neil Cole and Frank Viola. Here is an outstanding excerpt from Viola’s latest book “From Eternity to Here.”

One of the great problems in the Christian faith today, I believe, is that Christians are taught to be salt and light in the world as individuals. We are exhorted as individuals to change the world for Christ. We are motivated as individuals to be agents of God’s kingdom.

“Church” has been redefined as the place you attend to be educated and motivated to go out and live a better individual Christian life. Sadly, the individual emphasis in contemporary Christianity has overwhelmed and eclipsed God’s central purpose, which is corporate. To compound the trouble, we have been handed individualistic lenses by which to read, study, and interpret everything in the Bible.

Please observe that it is not the individual Christian who is the fullness of Christ. It is the church, the ekklasia. Also observe that the vast majority of the Bible was written to a people, not an individual. That includes your New Testament, the bulk of which was written to Christian communities.

Our new species lives, works, and behaves in community. We are a colony together. Thus the great need of the hour is for Christians to begin learning how to gather together and embody Christ in a shared-life community where they live. The Christian life is not about you or me. It’s about us. And that is the church.

It is so refreshing to be a part of a small cluster of followers who share their gifts and have the freedom to lead and teach as God prompts without conventional barriers in the way. It is simply amazing how free God's Spirit works and how much Kingdom work is accomplished when Christ acts as the Head of his Body. Vision and passion are shared and developed corporately. It IS so refreshing!

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