To a Dying Church,
Guess what? It’s not that bad.
You just have to get it together a bit.
Seriously, like yesterday. I mean, we have time. But, seriously, we’re all waiting for you to get it together.
You have the means. You have the ability. You have the know-how.
Actually, you don’t have to do that much. You just have to realize that Jesus has done it all and there is a current of immense possibility right under your feet.
Tap into it. Remember it. Root down.
This happens every so often. We are cyclical people. Every once in a while we forget.
But this time you’ve really done a doozy on your own health by chasing after insane supplements and growth hormones. And you’ve also picked some really lame fights. In the race to grow you’ve forgotten your way a bit and now you’re bloated and punch-drunk in the streets swinging at anyone that’ll ask a sensible question.
Stop it. You’re better than this.
Remember that church in Freetown with the blown out walls from the war and that corner of the roof where the rain fell in? Yeah. That place where those 10 or 12 high school kids were gathered to talk about their dreams for a free and peaceful country? That big, broken building with tattered curtains around the windows, concrete floor, and vision for a better city? Better days? Visions of becoming doctors and teachers and business owners and football stars all for Jesus and their neighbors? That was living church.
And they didn’t even have a soundboard or Twitter.
Remember that little country church at that funeral where they were out on the front stoop smoking cigarettes talking about the dearly departed? Who she really was? How she really lived? Yeah, the minister inside was like a hired gun. He really blew that homily. He shouldn’t have turned it into an altar call. The altar call was every Sunday afternoon around her dining room table with those homemade biscuits for any drifter who needed a warm meal and a place to wash up. Or the city slicker cousin who forgot the family farm and felt guilty as hell about it. Or the niece who got pregnant with so and so down the street and knew she might not be welcome back home but she would be welcome in her aunt’s home. That was living church.
And she didn’t even have a very tight statement of faith.
Remember that church in the city that held on for decades? Yeah — the one that stuck out white flight and became a Hispanic congregation? No, not the one on the rough side of town. The one on the now very hipster part of town. Yeah, the one by the laundromat-craft cocktail-farm-to-table snack shop. Yeah. Well, did you know that for 22 years every Sunday the best preacher in town gave the weekly sermon in Spanish to a congregation of neighbors from far off places and really, totally different nations, somehow binding the congregation together as reconciling people? Actually, his sermons weren’t very good. He never had the time to work on them and he never had enough help around the business ends of the church and he eventually had to get that part-time job. Well, two jobs. And in his very spare time lived out sermons by sitting with his flock in the still, liminal spaces. The spaces that occupy immigrant family homes. That was living church.
And most of those folks aren’t even documented. Or “legal,” as you sometimes like to say. They say his daughter, now, is the real preacher and might be planting a bilingual church soon. That is living church.
Chin up, cheer up. All’s not lost yet. But you have to remember who you are and really, truly whose you are. You are the body of Christ — ambassadors and ministers of a better way. The way of the kingdom of God. Not start-ups and stock markets, partisanship or downright hatred. Remember we serve God who is Love — not God who is continually a decent God as long as you don’t screw up or smell bad or look wrong or sleep with the wrong people and then he is a really, really mean, wrathful God.
Dying church, it’s time to rise! Get up! Get offline and get outside and greet the day. There’s plenty for you to do and I can think of nobody else who is needed right now than You. You’re going to screw up. You’re going to get things wrong. You’re going to make some mistakes. Good news: that that’s what the Lord expects. We’ll work through it.
So get over yourself a bit, be a bit more humble, a bit more kind, and live.
Adam Phillips is pastor of Christ Church in Portland, an Evangelical Covenant Church plant for God ’ s glory and neighbor ’ s good in the city. He has also worked with ONE, Bread for the World and World Vision.
Image: City streets illustration, Mykhaylo Palinchak / Shutterstock.com