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?”