"semper reformanda" - can it really happen?
As we look into a new year, are we truly open to the Word that God may want to speak? . . . the possibilities God may want to reveal? . . . the continued process of change and "reform" God may want to make happen? . . . God's vision for us as God's people here in Lancaster, here in America, here in our part of the global church?
Deep down, my dream for the Church is to see it so integrated within the local community that whole sections of the city or neighborhoods are transformed: that every person who lives there will somehow meet Christ in a personal way; that they will see the Kingdom expressed in grassroots ways; and that the authentic love and care of the Church will influence both the family level and systems level of the community.
There are so many wonderful ministries that have this kind of vision for the community, even here in Lancaster. But each chooses its own mission, its own way/means of reaching toward the goal. When I think of how I, personally, would love to be a part of seeing this kind of vision come to fruition, I'm not feeling called to start another organization or another church. I think in terms of holistic and incarnational living within Christian community.
I would love to see Christian families living in community so that they can both demonstrate to those around them how to live as part of the up-side-down kingdom, and also support one another as partners in this calling. I get excited about the kind of impact that we could have when we make intentional choices to live more simply and more missionally. When Christian families choose to work together at this, it makes it so much easier. Sharing resources, sharing ideas, sharing in efforts of hospitality and outreach are all ways that we can work together to demonstrate our commitment to our calling, but also to actually make it happen!
As I have pondered the possibility of such a mission, however, I get discouraged. I see a lot of talk about being missional, about being a community, about being authentic and making a difference, but I don't see a lot of "bang for the buck," if I may use maybe a misleading analogy. I'm not just trying to say that we need to be looking at the quantity of unbelievers we are leading into the church, but rather, are we being the influence we want to be or think we are or should be? And I'm not insinuating that our quality of witness is necessarily bad either. I'm looking at meaningful impact: are the lives of unbelievers so inundated with the Kingdom that they can't help but be drawn to it!
And when I look at our ability to be this kind of influence, there are tons of barriers! First of all, it appears that we wonder how much is our responsibility and how much is the church's. We seem to think that if we create the right programs or add another addition onto the meeting place that "they will come." Or maybe we think we need to get the right preacher or the right song leader or the right worship service or more children or better audio-visual equipment and "they will come." We work so hard to make our meetings attractive, it sends the message that we think our "church" is the Kingdom, the one Jesus said had to go out into the fields to gather the Harvest. It's funny, we act as though Jesus said, "invite the Harvest to uproot itself and come in." I am convinced that if we continue to look at the institutional church as the catalyst of change in our culture, we are never going to see the Kingdom revealed and transformation happen in society.
And if we do realize that it does take ME, WE, US, to be the hands and feet of Christ, we have an even longer list of barriers. First of all, we are so busy with our work and families, we don't have much time or energy to think about others. Second, we are often loners in this business of outreach. We do what we can and then just throw up our hands and say, "I can't do anymore than that!" Instead of looking at how our brothers and sisters in the global church demonstrate the values of interdependence, cooperation and sacrificial living in their efforts to be community, we prefer our American Christianity that emulates the American values of independence, self-sufficiency, middle-class life-style and secluded-living locations.
It's hard to find people who would be willing to move to live in closer proximity to others in the Christian community or be willing to experiment with sharing resources such as vehicles, equipment, maybe even homes. It's hard to set aside the mentality of working/earning for future financial security and look at how our lifestyle can impact the eternity of the unbelievers who live around us now. It's hard for some people to be brave enough to look at the ways a family can live more simply so they can function on a slimmer income. And even more scary for some would be the conversations about partnership in these endeavors. There are so many possibilities that open up when families plan these kinds of interventions into a community together.
What this kind of mission requires is "semper reformanda," a constant reform of our patterns of thinking, trust in how God will provide for our needs and those around us, openness to working together, and heart for outreach and simple living. Ultimately, it means a total transformation of our spirituality of Christian community. It also means we need to be clear about why we gather together each week and what we are supposed to do when we scatter. Words of mission and purpose are only valuable if they give clear direction to how we can reach our vision. They need to make us so excited about the possibilities that we SEARCH for how God wants to change us and accomplish His will through us.
"Semper reformanda" - can it really happen?