Going Out To Where There’s Need
At the BC Synod Convention, this month in New Westminster, our church discussed “being church” for this day and age. Alan Roxburgh, of The Missional Network, was invited to speak at a couple of sessions of the convention. If I could sum up what he said in one sentence about church-mission for today – and perhaps filter it through what I’ve experienced as where the church needs to go these days – it would be: “determine the need of the community – even disregarding the church’s desires for the future – and go and meet that need.”
In a poem I wrote a few years ago, I said that the we, in the church, fear our own demise. Why is that? I mean, of course, let’s not get suicidal – but why are we so scared of death? As Christians – as ones who believe in resurrection life – why does dying to the way we’ve known scare us so much?
It seems to me that we need to connect with groups that work at meeting need. And that’s the beginning. If we can connect with, even hold up and support, groups that are working to meet needs in our communities, we can get a real sense of what it is to engage in need in our local contexts. Then, our mission as the wider church, and as local congregations, becomes that need-meeting kind of work!
The thing is, it also means giving ourselves away. Obviously, that means going places we haven’t gone before. We’ve been able to make it pretty comfortably to this point by expecting people will be here to support our church-efforts and church-structures. No one can remember a time when the church struggled for existence. But the church has struggled for existence before – and it did ministry differently in that day. It’s struggling for existence now, and we must engage in ministry differently than we have been.
You’ve probably heard me use this quote before… Walter Brueggeman identifies five primary marks of the Christian life (he draws upon the writings of Paul). We are to be generous, be hospitable, not covet, not be vengeful and observe Sabbath rest. If we did those primary things, all the secondary issues would evaporate because we wouldn’t have time for them!
If we can let go, step out in faith, and engage in ministry with those needing our compassion, our grace, our patience, and love, imagine how we could change the world! And we don’t do it with conditions or questions – we don’t go out to meet need only if the one we help commits to being in church on Sunday morning; we don’t offer help only if it means that eventually the one helped will be contributing in the offering plate. We must step out in faith by giving of ourselves – sharing of our individual resources so that our congregations might share of their collective resources. We must step out in faith by showing hospitality in the most radical way – welcoming and inviting people like us and people not like us, without judgment or attempt to change, and we must find it in ourselves as individuals to welcome in this way so that our congregations and wider church structures might also be radically hospitable and welcoming! We must look beyond our desires and wants for the future and for the church structures we’ve created so that we can see need that is more pressing, need that is more imminent, need that means life or death for someone else. And if we can work to meet need, and work for life for all people, we may find ourselves doing Jesus’ work in the world!