So if what you’re offering at church isn’t worth a special trip, it’s unlikely we’ll be dropping by any time soon …
Archives for February 2018
What motivates us to change things? Especially, when and why will we act in the face of escalating risk? School taught us to ask the simple question: “Will this be in the exam?” If the answer is no, we don’t have to do anything about it. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” is another form of the same thing: don’t do anything unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.
It’s default mode for churches in survival mode. Churches that have had the same, shrinking membership for years have every incentive not to change. After all, they’ve spent years getting everything exactly right for their group. Church is their second home – their comfort zone. In a world that is changing at a terrifying pace, it’s reassuring to be somewhere that’s reliably the same, year on year. And then there’s the knock-down argument against change: “There’s no guarantee that we’ll attract any new people, and we’ll just end up upsetting the few people we’ve got!”
That’s the “Will this be in the exam?” equivalent. And it’s the most powerful vaccination against transformation on the market.
Standing still brings our journey of discipleship to a grinding halt. The weeds start to grow and the creeper starts to envelop us. Decay. Asphyxiation. Death. Grudging change in the face of grinding necessity is the opposite of transformation.
We’re promised that there is so much more that God is itching to give us. We’re unfinished business – we’re still in the process of being fashioned to be more and more like Jesus. Our best is ahead of us, not behind.
Curiosity. Impatience. Faith. Delight. Love. Devotion to the Jesus we follow – these are the reasons for never standing still; for investing in change. This is the change that leads to transformation. It isn’t comfortable, but it’s the only way to discover the Life that God has for us in Jesus, through the Spirit. That’s when we discover things that are worth dying for.
The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. In a closed system (the universe), the amount of energy remains constant. The two most basic forms are potential and kinetic. Potential energy is the stored energy of a boulder, poised to roll down the moment you release it. That’s gravitational potential. Kinetic energy is the energy of its motion, once it starts rolling.
That’s physics. The opposite is true in church life. Here’s the First Law of Church Life Thermodynamics:
You’re either the person who creates energy, or destroys it.
You can be the person who initiates things, or builds actively and creatively on the ideas and suggestions of others. You’re the one who asks, “Yes – and what if …?”, or who says eagerly, “I’ll do it!” or “I’ll help!”
Or you can be the negative person who can always find reasons for not doing anything. You can do that actively, or passively by simply being a bystander – eating the biscuits at a meeting, but not adding to the energy of the meeting, potential or kinetic. And always having any number of good reasons/excuses/explanations for why you are merely an absorber of it. Like the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter stories.
Covenant behaviour is always about being a contributor, rather than a consumer. It’s being the generous one, who always puts in far more than they take out. It’s not about personality; it’s about vision and faithfulness and the passion to make a Jesus-shaped difference.
Surely all this talk of ‘making a Jesus-shaped difference’ is just sales-talk dressed up in religious garb? Come on – be honest! You’re trying to sell me something!
Of course we are! If we’re trying to change things – make a difference – then we’re selling something. And we want buy-in. What we’re not doing is charging for it. It’s a bit like Jesus being questioned by Pilate: “Are you a king?” “You can choose to put it that way …” So the straight answer to the question, “Are you trying to sell me something?” is, “You can choose to put it that way …”
That’s the conversation opener. And it’s an okay place to start. It’s where people already are, or where they’re on familiar territory. It’s their space – and we need to meet them where they are. What matters is where the conversation goes from here. Where it needs to go is to unpack the similarities and differences between what we’re doing and what they’re expecting.
If it is genuinely about making a Jesus-shaped difference (rather than benefiting our church), two things will stick out like a sore thumb. The first is the element of gift. We’re in the business of creating fellow disciples, not customers. As DT Niles put it, “We are only ever beggars showing other beggars where to find bread”!
And the second is like it: it adds value to people’s lives. The call to follow Jesus is the invitation to walk the road to Life. “Life in all it’s abundance”, as John puts it. Gift and value are what drive us to talk about this stuff to people … surely?
“You have such vivid Christian imagery in many of your songs, and much of it is contrasted with the selfishness of the ‘modern’ individual. I was wondering what’s your take on the state of Christianity today?”
Leonard Cohen :
“I don’t really have a ‘take on the state of Christianity.’ But when I read your question, this answer came to mind: As I understand it, into the heart of every Christian, Christ comes, and Christ goes. When, by his Grace, the landscape of the heart becomes vast and deep and limitless, then Christ makes His abode in that graceful heart, and His Will prevails. The experience is recognized as Peace. In the absence of this experience much activity arises, divisions of every sort. Outside of the organizational enterprise, which some applaud and some mistrust, stands the figure of Jesus, nailed to a human predicament, summoning the heart to comprehend its own suffering by dissolving itself in a radical confession of hospitality.”
Sounds like a great summary of what Christianity ought to mean …