Richard Rohr starts off one of this brilliant meditations with this series of statements. Nothing in this world is an end in itself, including the church, priests, pastors, popes, laws, bible – nothing. Only God is an end; everything else is a means. Only God can save us, not the church.
I for one have immense love for the church. When I was young, my family was among the faithful present every time the church doors were open. The congregation was like a loving, extended family and words cannot express how much I was formed and benefited from participating in the church through the years. That said, the church cannot give us what we so desperately need. It cannot save us or set us free… only God can do that. The church (at its best) is a beautiful gift, a means by and through which God heals, loves, teaches, serves, cares, feeds, clothes and otherwise ushers in the Kingdom.
Sadly, sometimes the church mistakes itself as the point instead of the means to God’s point. It is this kind of thinking and acting that leads congregations down unhealthy and destructive paths. When we, the church get the idea that our people, our buildings, our programs, our budgets, our agendas and our survival is the point, then we have lost something essential to our intended identity and mission. It is no longer about the great, aforementioned Kingdom mission, but rather getting butts in the pews, money in the church coffers and defending our positions.
In a time when church attendance continues to decline many ask, “How can we save the church?” I suspect that God might redirect us to a better question, “How can we continue in our mission to save the world?”
I have heard it said on many occasions that Houston is the most diverse city in the world. What an extraordinary calling card for our city. Within the greater Houston area, we display the greatest diversity in skin tone, language and cultural heritage in the world. From a faith perspective, it could be said that when we look out over our city we are blessed see the colors of heaven. Let me explain what I mean.
Genesis 1 teaches us that we are ALL made in the image of God. All of us are little, walking talking revelations or pictures of the Creator. God is not represented in one or a few of us, but in all of us together. Early Christian philosophers and theologians taught about this beautiful truth by using the Latin word persona. Persona referred to the large theatrical masks used by Greek actors to set apart different characters in the play. Each mask and player was unique in size, shape and color, but still an essential part of the larger play.
According to the Scriptures, we, humanity as a whole, all wear masks. But our unique masks offer glimpses of God. Consider that for a moment. Each and every person that we encounter in our beautiful city, regardless of size, shape, color, language, culture, intellect, ability or disability, affluence level, religion or sexual orientation are revelations, faces of God. All of us are unique, beautiful image bearers of the Creator. So church, let us not allow our differences to divide us. May we follow Jesus and recognize that in every face we encounter, no matter how different, the face of God is revealed.
“When that generation too had been gathered to its fathers, another generation followed it which knew neither Yahweh nor the deeds that he had done for the sake of Israel.” They had forgotten. Judges 2:10
Where have all the children gone? This is the question being asked by most church leaders in this season of history. Unlike the generations of faithful masses that have frequented traditional churches looking to find God, the younger generations, the Generation Xers and Millennials, are on the whole nowhere to be found. Thus, the question entrusted to today’s pastor and lay leader is this. Where have they gone and how might the church reengage and welcome them into faith community once again.
I had coffee with a community leader the other day and our conversation turned to this topic. He shared with me some interesting insights that the greying church would do well to consider. He said, “The younger generations do not need the church to find God. In fact, many believe that God is much easier to find in nature, art, music or philosophy than in the traditional church. The younger generations no longer need the church for community. They find friendships at the office, at the gym, in their yoga community or online. The younger generations require legitimate faith to be connected to a cause that makes the world a better place.
The church must embrace the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the refugee, the outsider, the LGBTQ community, the lonely, the weary, the addicted, the depressed and the hopeless. We embrace, not for the purpose of conversion or membership, but because of love and an eagerness to see God’s just kingdom here as it is in heaven. That is the church that will welcome these younger generations. That is the church that proves its faith authentic and worthy of a hearing in the public square. I would suggest that is the church Jesus envisioned from the beginning.