Yoder on “success”

This quote speaks to much of what I have been wondering about in recent posts:

“The standard by which we measure our obedience is therefore Jesus Christ himself; from Him we learn that brokenness, not success, is the normal path of faithfulness to the servanthood of God. This is not to glorify failure or some sort of heroic uselessness, but to claim, as a confession that can be only made in faith, that true ‘success’ in Christian obedience is not to be measured by changing the world in a given direction within a given length of time, but by the congruence between our path and the triumph of Christ.”

—John Howard Yoder, The Racial Revolution in Theological Perspective, p. 9.

Patience and a glimpse of hope

I recently asked this question of a classmate of mine who is a pastor in the Greater Vancouver area:

-As you lead people towards authentically living out their faith, how do you have patience that God is using you to make a difference, especially in the context of our comfortable North American Christianity?

Here was his response:

“That's a great question, David. I am not a patient person. I want change now. And to tell you the truth, almost every day for the last year has been very painful. I saw that we had so far to go. There has barely been a day that has gone by (except for the last couple months) where I didn't ask God to take me out of this church. It has only been by God's grace that I've stuck it out. Every time I was feeling discouraged I would tell God that I needed to know that this is where He wanted me, and without fail, He would send someone my way to tell me that God is doing something subversive. There is something bigger happening than what I can see. And so I would hang on a little longer. I have no idea if this church is even going to survive, but I see God changing hearts. One 71 year old lady who has been a Christian since she was six years old gave a testimony in church that for the first time in her life she is obeying God's call on her life. Last week I had lunch with her and she said, "Jeff, I've changed." She didn't go into details about what that meant, but everyone in the church has seen it. She used to be someone that everyone was afraid of. She never smiled. She was often critical of the leadership in the church. Now, she exudes the love of Christ. She led a couple ladies from her neighbourhood to Christ a couple months ago. She and others like her are the only reason that I can keep going. She said that a gay friend of hers asked if she would be welcomed at our church and she replied, ‘Our pastor has preached from the pulpit every Sunday that God has called us to love God and love people, so I would assume that would include you.’

I have to tell myself over and over again that it's not about me. God is doing something, and it's bigger than me and so I just hang in there. Anyway, I'm not sure if that answers your question.”

I am glad there are some solid pastors around who are faithfully sticking it out and seeing small (or large!?!) glimpses of transformation. Sharing these stories is incredibly valuable in realizing that God is in fact working in our local churches. I know I’m encouraged!

Church leaders… yes, I mean you!

I think that the biggest challenge facing the next generation of church leaders today is to stick it out in their own churches and traditions and faithfully participate in the kingdom, patient that God will touch people’s heart to participate with them. One of the most disappointing aspects of my Christian education up this point has been the fueled alienation students garner towards the church, resulting in many graduates of bible school and even seminary who become so pessimistic about the contemporary church that they leave church altogether, or start their own “perfect” church community.

So my plea to all of you: please stick it out!!! The church needs you! Your church needs you! And as a fellow up and coming church leader, I need you! I need you so that I can persevere and be encouraged that I am not alone on this journey...

(This post is directed towards anyone who may be a “leader” in their church, not just towards pastors. I would define leadership pretty broadly in the context of this discussion; so basically, my plea goes out to all of you!)

(I also recognize that my idealistic plea cannot ignore the personal hurt suffered by many church leaders across traditions. There is no easy solution to these sad occurrences. My hope and prayer is that somewhere forgiveness and reconciliation will allow us all to continue hoping for God’s project to be evident in and through the church.)

(Lastly, I should also mention that some instances do require leaders or church members to leave their particular church or tradition, whether it is for personal or perhaps theological reasons. While this is often a necessary reality in the faith development of any Christian, my caution is against a sort of free floating, loosely committed form of church involvement where one can jump from church to church. [You may be able to tell that I am not a fan of frequent church shopping])

(Sorry my bracketed comments are longer than the actual post!)

Caution: Church at Work!

Today was “Love (your city)" across Canada as churches joined across denominational lines to show God’s love to their communities in a variety of different ways. Now, handing out free food and drinks at major intersections may not be the most practical way of communicating God’s love for people, but behind the scenes practical projects are being done that give me cause for optimism that the church is in fact being a faithful representation of God’s activity in the world.

I had the opportunity to participate in one such project this morning. One bosses’ neighbors recently became a single mother, working three jobs to support her family. At the same time her house was in need of major repair, particularly the leaky roof. So my boss decided to approach his church about the possibility of expanding the vision of Love Abbotsford to making a permanent impact into the lives of this family. Today there were about 50 of us, ranging from roofers, framers, landscapers, painters, and everyone else in-between who went and gave the home a complete overhaul inside and out, including a new roof. The key to the whole thing is that are no strings attached. It is the church community simply saying God cares for you.

It is a breath of fresh air to see people band together and tangibly show that God cares for people, not just their “spiritual” well-being. God’s plan to have shalom restored to his whole creation extends to all things in people’s lives, right to the roof over their heads.

So next time you or I complain that the church is failing miserably in its mission to be God’s representative, take this story as an inspiring caution; the church is at work!

Faithful or effective?

As a Christian, I believe that God has a concern for what is happening in our world. I do not think that God sits idly by watching the world’s event unfold, but has/is/will be active in history. A common theological term that is once again growing in popularity is the notion of God’s “kingdom.” Howard Snyder defines kingdom simply as “the reign of God” and the goal for Christians is to grasp “how God’s saving work in the world may be understood and experienced.” Recently, I have been considering how I perceive God’s reign in our world. Is it represented by the church? Does humanity in general represent aspects of God’s kingdom? Perhaps political structures or even specific societies represent the reign of God? And what is the Christian responsibility in participating in God’s reign? What I do know, however, is that our finite understanding of what (if anything at all for some???) God is doing in the world is a difficult concept to comprehend.

In my wondering about this topic I have come across a concept that has been especially helpful to me. I have called it the “faithfulness principle.” When considering how we comprehend God’s reign in the world, the key is not to conceive of a detailed approach to exactly how, where, what, (etc…) the kingdom of God can be understood in the grand scheme of history and the world, but to be faithful in what we know God is doing. Faithfulness, not effectiveness, then becomes our measuring stick to participating in God’s kingdom. After all, it is God’s kingdom, not ours (Hence, “your kingdom come, your will be done”). This is especially refreshing in our present age where effectiveness in all areas of society, particularly the church often trumps faithfulness. The result is church practices and individual Christian expressions that simply emulate the surrounding culture. Many confuse effectiveness, church attendance perhaps, with faithfulness.

I am encouraged by this approach to understanding God’s reign in the world because while it ups the ante in terms of calling for truly faithful disciples, it also places the authority of the kingdom and the church back into proper hands; namely, God’s.

The implications for this type of church are hard to determine. The reality is that churches that place faithfulness before effectiveness may in fact decrease in size. What does this say about our contemporary concern for numbers and church growth? It may also mean that certain issues in society may lead to persecution of the church and limited freedoms that we have once taken for granted. It’s hard to know… But what I do know is that God is at work in our world and the fundamental Christian responsibility is faithfulness, even at the expense of what some consider effectiveness.