So far this week, we have seen how we miss the point with institutions. Then we talked about how the issue is actually deeper than simply institutions. It is a theological issue. So let’s get a little more concrete.
Where do we see this play out? How does theology really affect all of this?
A couple of weeks ago, Sean Palmer posted a blog simply stating why ministers are leaving the Church of Christ (the faith tradition the three of us come out of). The post was just some observations (which I think are spot on) he made based on conversations he was having with guys leaving the CoC, but the ideas sparked a lot of controversy.
There were some violent responses:
People would not be leaving our branch of Christianity because of anything the institution was doing wrong! There is obviously something wrong with them (notice that word)! Anyone who would leave or critique are way of doing things has separated themselves from the truth.
Why would people react so harshly?
I think it is because we have a bad theology of success and blessing.
Last week, we talked about how we have an upside down way of viewing blessing in our culture. Blessing in our culture is connected to wealth, power, comfort and success. And we have adopted this idea of blessing into our idea of churches.
For a church to be considered successful, it must be growing: numerically, financially, prgrammatically, and sometimes even in the amount of staff and volunteers needed to keep it going. With this model, a blessed church is one who is rich, prosperous, and the crowds are growing.
Perhaps we need to re-read who has sorrow awaiting them.
With this idea of blessing driving our churches, we begin to see why there are violent responses to the notion of a dying church. We see why people furiously protect their doctrines, attendance and budget. We see why we equate things like program attendance and certain traditions with the Gospel itself.
Because a church who is losing people would be un-successful. A church who needed to rethink some things would not be in a position to exert its power and influence. It would not be a very “blessed” church. We have bought into the idea that blessing is about numbers, power, and influence.
Our theology of blessing is off.
In these Beatitudes, we see that the primary location for the true Church is with the down and out – those who offer nothing in return, those who do not have what our culture considers blessing or success, those who are rejected and forgotten.
The way of the Church is not “up and to the right.” The way of the Church is the way of the cross.
Blessing is not about getting more numbers, power, and influence. Blessing is about using what we have to give life to those without power and influence.
A Church is “blessed” when it is giving herself away. A Church is blessed when it lets go of the need for big numbers and prestige. When a Church sees blessing as coming through poverty, hunger, mourning and rejection, a dip in numbers or budget seems a lot less troublesome.
When a Church uses this theology of blessing, it is much easier to re-think traditions and ways of doing things.
When a Church uses this theology of blessing, it sends people off to create new expressions of faith rather than tightening its grip on its members. The goal is to get people to Jesus, not to get people in the building.
When a Church uses this theology of blessing, it is not afraid of critique or questions or doubt because it is not concerned with promoting itself, it is concerned with meeting people where they are, especially in the dark and low moments.
When a Church uses this theology of blessing, it does not need to be the moral or doctrinal police, it is concerned with being the presence of Christ to those in dark places.
Our theology of blessing profoundly impacts the way we approach faith, church, authority, and what we believe to be important in life and in our institutions.
Perhaps we should not be stressed about being a “dying church” because we are called to be a “dying Church” – a church of the cross.
Or perhaps there are some things in our churches which simply need to die for new life to be birthed.
We are the flesh and blood embodiment of Jesus in the world. And the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It is the way of dying so others can live.
As we strive to be the Church in the world, we must learn to think theologically about success and blessing. We need to see success through the eyes of Jesus and not through the eyes of corporate America.