I wrote this over the summer when I was redoing the web site. Since this is the new forum, I figured I’d just borrow it and republish it here.
Orginally published…I don’t remember when!:
Seventeen months ago (as of this writing) I was told by the powers that be of one of my alma maters and the accrediting agency that oversees them that I had “mastered the divine.” That’s right, by official reckoning, I was of the elite few that could handle the word of God, stand in the pulpit and effect change in a congregation, and go to hospitals to be with the sick. Oh, the power!
So what do I do with this great power with which I have been endowed? I sit for forty hours a week (well, fifty this week) and get paid well to do a job that requires a high school diploma – or equivalent. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very glad to have my job. It is a good job. It’s just not what I went to college and then seminary expecting to do.
Since getting involved with Fellowship of the Valley, I’ve been asking myself questions that have long been lingering in the back of my mind. Free of my own ministry responsibilities and the requirements of papers and classes, I’ve begun reading again. The two that I’m going back and forth between right now are Doug Pagitt’s Reimagining Spiritual Formation and Darrell Guder’s Missional Church. (They’re on FOTV’s booklist.)
Here’s the premise: the church we have known for most of the twentieth century is not the church as it should be. We have been focused on bringing people into us rather than on going out to them. And I don’t mean “out” as in a missionary family leaving their home in the states to live in the remote parts of the African continent. I mean out as into our own neighborhoods. We have expected people in our own backyards to come find us. If they want to be part of our Christian social circle, then, like any other club, they should go through the right process. Or so our methodology has said, by actions if not in words.
So here’s my question: if being part of the church that is the body of Christ on earth – his hands and feet and heart – is more than praying a prayer, taking a dunk in a tub or pool, and consuming some cracker and juice for a little mysticism (and I think it is), then what does being Christian look like?
And the picture that is forming in my mind indicates to me that it does not look like the American dream. Maybe God’s perfect dream for me doesn’t involve my own house and a nice high-end five figure job that allows me to live comfortably, confident that food will be on my table tomorrow and in a week’s and month’s time. Maybe God intends instead that I be able to empathize with the vast majority of His creation that doesn’t have the privileges of living in the wealthiest part of the world.
I used to think I knew what I wanted, what was best for me. See, I’d graduate from seminary and go on to earn a Ph.D. I’d work in a college, university, or seminary training others to be just like me. On the side, I’d serve in a church – either on staff or as a active lay person, you know, spilling over my excess knowledge and grace on top of those who haven’t been as spiritual as me by going to seminary. Emily and I would have our careers like the American dream dictates. And we’d own our own house: it would have the large front porch my mother has always wanted. And I’d have a separate building in the back somewhere that was air conditioned and sound proofed for me to play the piano whenever and however I wanted. And our paychecks would be plenty for what we needed to maintain the lifestyle expected of us. I used to have it all figured out.
But now I wonder. Just what does it mean to be a Christian? Really, what does it look like? What is it about modeling Christ that is supposed to draw others to him through what I do? Because parsing Greek participles, understanding the finer uses of the Greek article in the third chapter of 2 Corinthians, and analyzing Hebrew poetry just isn’t doing the job.