I have had difficulty dismissing a conversation with a leader in our city this past week.
The conversation focused around trying to better frame the thoughts of emerging leaders in our city, so that we might improve the quality of life at large.
In the midst of that conversation we addressed the challenge facing our county as well as region, one that emerges when each municipality insists on protecting their own community, when collaboration and even at times consolidation of efforts might better serve the greater good. Model cities, rated in a national listing, were cited after experiencing great turn around upon accepting this transformational mode of operation.
I began to hear in our conversation a work style predominate among churches. Seldom do churches truly collaborate for any prolonged periods of time, especially across denominations. In fact within my denomination, though we have multiple churches within our county and region, seldom do we work in union…in the communion prescribed by our Lord!
Seriously, could the dysfunctional DNA of the institutional church be so infused in our leadership, among its disciples, that it is actually impairing cities? Could the mission of the church, bringing salt and light to its communities, actually be thwarted by the means of the church itself? Are we somehow, though unintentional I’m sure, ironically infusing competition and not communion into the wisdom of our political, social and economic leadership? After all, almost without exception these leaders profess allegiance with some church, at least in the religious Bible belt of the South.
Does this mean I am turning against the churches, a thousand times no! Does this mean out of love for the church that I am calling for transformation, in fact a turning back to the principles, the way of Christ? Now you understand me.
In another conversation recently with a younger emerging leader, now confronted with the challenges that lie in front of his own generation, a conversation developed around a new book by Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, We discussed three necessary components of sound theology taken from the very words of Jesus: The Way, The Truth and the Life. The Way being the actions of Christ; the Truth, the principles of His life; and the Life, the rewards…the fruit of living out those principles in one’s own life. Following Jesus involves all three, yet it seems that many of our churches have surrendered to simply the study of one or more, but have produced few who truly walk in all three.
We have learned to dupe each other by using scriptural language while measuring our walk against one another and not the Christ Himself. At best for some, their attempts at worship are no more than sincere ceremonies held in hopes of passing along each tradition and its songs, for others trying to leverage God in times of need, and in worst case scenarios to sustain revenue streams and fund real estate. Oops, I’m back in my old repo mode!
Just as we tend to live in isolation in our deepest personal lives, we have mimicked this congregationally within our community. With few precious exceptions, our churches have become silos that have produced leaders that compete not only in a capitalistic economy, but in decision-making processes as well. This wisdom may fail us as we become more and more dependent on collaboration, given our diminishing resources, a globe that is flatter and more crowded.
“Come let us reason together and though our sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18
There is a remedy, there is a way, and we should walk in it!