Thursday, April 23, 2015

Job's Friends

I can remember a message I listened to on the radio by Allistair Begg several years ago in which he said that the best thing that Job's friends did was to sit and cry with him.

I read this in The Chosen by Chaim Potok a few weeks back:  A word is worth one coin, silence is worth two.  - The Talmud

There's something being said here about there being a productive type of input vs. input that only thickens the mire.  I fear that we have become a world full of analysts, consultants and theorists....and those are the nice words.  On the downside, we are just critics, pessimists, gossips and cynical consumers, even in the church; which is just so odd to me.

I am a pastor (which has also, always been odd to me).  I didn't grow up in the church; have no generational allegiance to it, and yet I am so completely in love with The Body of Christ, that I just can't bring myself to ever consider parting ways with it, even though I know it is filled with flaws....because, after all it is made up of people, and I are one.

I find my heart breaking as I see over and over new books arriving, and new articles in magazines that continue to speak negatively about the value or purpose of the church.  The worst part is that these condemnations come from folks who consider themselves as part of the church.  It seems to me that often the most revered representatives, at the forefront of this movement, are the ones who can point out the most faults. I wonder...Could it be more helpful if the voices calling out for change, did so, without tossing the existing church over the shoulder like it was a piece of wadded paper? 

I used to use the word, "relevant" a lot...back in the 80's and 90's.  It defined the heart of the choices we were making in ministry.  In these thirty years since, "relevancy" has remained at the center of our focus, but I don't like to use the word anymore because I think that it has become a tool in the hands of the people looking for ways to disengage from or speak negativity about those people I believe that Christ died for.

I have difficulty discrediting an institution that with all of its problems, at its heart has still tried to live out the the Great Commission; not just around the world, but in me.  Absolutely, I see that there are many issues.  I have stood against things in our denomination at times that seem outside that calling in Matthew 28:19-20, and it has cost me personally.  However, I have always attempted to do so as someone within the ranks; hoping that we can apply some critical thinking toward the future, rather than just being critical.  Too much of what I see/read comes from voices that have already relegated the church to a place of irrelevance (There's that word again) or more pointedly, death.  Of course, the church will always live, because the church is people and not buildings or leadership structures.  I know that the analysts understand this, because the works I have read come from the minds of very sharp people, but it is still worth saying out loud.  The Church will never die.

I also want to share a few more general thoughts in response to some of the points being made by the writers I have read:

1.  I agree with the criticism that says: If the Body of Christ becomes less impactful in the world as an organized institution, it will be because we forgot how to maintain connection between those in the body and those who are not.  However, this is not about the ability of the organization or its leadership, but about how we achieve these things as individuals, as people, and with people.

2.  I do not believe it's the fault of the church if I don't see others coming to Jesus.  That is as much about me as it is about anything else.  In me, and through me, are people detecting a hope in something beyond what the world has to give?  Nearly every day I have ever lived as a pastor, I have been drawn to two questions, and in this order:  1) How can I effectively share my faith with people around me? and... 2) How can I inspire others, who are part of my church family, to also, through their own lives, share their faith with others around them?

3.  It is our collective investment into this process as a family, no matter the generation or culture, that truly builds the kingdom and makes for churches to remain vital.  If we can just set aside enough time in our schedules to not only talk and pray (although both are good) but also, to get about being the people of God rather than lamenting the organization's shortcomings, there would be much less need for consultants, analysts etc.

4.  If we aren't a contributor rather than a detractor to this effort, maybe we should just sit down on the side of the road somewhere with Job's friends and cry.  It could be the most helpful thing we do.  I know this sounds like a harsh place to conclude this commentary, but of all the things that we understand to be wrong with the church today, I am wondering if this is the most hurtful.  We cannot expect those outside the body to applaud us for our efforts to build the kingdom, but it is those from within, throwing stones instead of building bridges that troubles me most.

Today, as never before, I feel challenged to re-think the effectiveness of our crucial connections; between us and God, the church family and our community.  Yet, lately, the greatest battle my friends and family in the church face, may not be in finding their own way to share hope in Christ with their neighbor, but in finding a way to escape the defeatist statements they hear from the consultants who are assessing the church from removed places and telling them why bother, the church is a losing enterprise anyway.

When I first became acquainted with Jesus, as a college freshman, it was a wholly new experience, that took place in a wholly new environment.  Since then, I have never lost the weight of concern for keeping my new family of faith (the church) within arm's reach of those I know to have not yet found faith.  This I believe is a sort of necessary tension that is part of the journey for all of us.  Sometimes that tension has felt overwhelming.  When my concerns were heaviest during my first years as a Christ follower, I remember hearing preachers say something like this: "The future is as bright as the promises of God!"   There was a great sense of truth, joy and inspiration mixed into that sentiment.   I knew in my heart, that God's promises were strong; that His character was impervious to change.  Therefore, despite any challenge at hand, all-sufficient grace was still in place and tomorrow was a hopeful proposition. Somehow it seems that the analysts have slighted us in recent days regarding that statement.

It is as if we are being told that God's promises have suffered because of inflation and are no longer as bright as they used to be.  

I guess that what I'm saying in all of this is...I'm just not willing to allow for that word, to be the last word in my life and am praying the same for the Body of Christ.  :)

Grace and peace,

Ev