From the Pew
In my last post, I promised to post "tomorrow" on the way churches tend to discourage volunteer efforts within the community, while encouraging overwork by paid staff. I have delayed posting on this as I have separated my thoughts out into several different threads. The first thread is looking again at what "church" IS, in terms of all our roles -- including paid and volunteer and "consumer". The second thread on this is on authority in the life of the non-paid non-vocational Christian. And then two related-but-separate threads are on speaking truth out of appropriate authority (and holding that truth unspoken when that is appropriate) and a thread that that leads to for me, in speaking boldly some of my insights from my own life that are not necessarily peaceable.
So this will be the first of 4 posts: for each of us, what role does the church play in our lives? What is the church, anyway? And what role should each one of us play in that church? (Yes, that's all one topic, and I plan to cover it in just several paragraphs. This is a blog, not a class; and these posts are meant to reveal one voice and one set of perceptions, not all that could be gleaned from a comprehensive study of the subject.)
The Bible is the story of a God who put us in community, from Creation to Noah to Abraham to the church in Acts. It is also the story of a God Who is innately in community within God, as seen in all the parts of scripture that reveal God the Creator, God the Incarnate One, and God the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the church, according to the whole of scripture and seen clearly in many passages precisely on this topic, is to be a loving community in which each person has a role and in which each role is honored -- to be a loving community that is in appropriate relationship with the Triune God.
The role the church should play in each one of our lives is a central one! It should be more central for you and for me than our family or than our workplace. The only more central relationship should be the relationship of each individual with the Triune God, but that relationship itself will lead directly to this community, and vice versa.
This is not to say that the local church is that central community in our lives . . . it is to say that the CHURCH -- world-wide and over time -- is that central community in our lives; but it is the real people in our lives day-in-and-day-out, at this place and time, who are the focus of that community for each of us. We do get to choose who those particular people are, to some extent (hence my December posts!) but we do not get to be lone-ranger Christians. A basic part of the definition of "Christian" as it shows up throughout two thousand years is that one is joined to the CHURCH in many practical ways on a daily basis. We are joined in ethics/values, creed, praxis, sacrament, membership, scholarship, relationships, caregiving . . . and in many other practical ways.
Paul says the CHURCH is to function as the parts of a body function to provide all the elements of life for an individual body. We individuals are to be working together in harmony and respect toward the end goal of "life as God means it to be for us, here and now". That includes much, of course -- but I don't have to get into that to make my point as to roles and added value.
The rest of our world is a marketplace. I train for my vocation, and you train for yours, and we in the world form an economy that ideally would also function something like the CHURCH. But the difference is that all humans -- no matter what their values and goals -- function as an addition or drain on the global economy. The CHURCH is made up of those who are attempting to fulfill the Great Commission, and both BE people who live the way Jesus taught his disciples to live and TEACH others to become His disciples.
To be part of the CHURCH does not require vocational training. To be part of the CHURCH requires that I center my life around the values that Jesus taught and that I both model and teach those values to others. (This does not take away from the value of training for credentials for formal vocational ministry, or the need for formal vocational ministry of many types. I'll talk more about that in future posts.)
The way we do CHURCH now tends to make it look much more like a marketplace activity than it should. We have a service or services we're offering to consumers or members; those offering the service or services are credentialed vocational Christians; and those who are consumers or members are good consumers or members if they consume the services and pay for them appropriately without becoming competition to those who make their living that way.
Many of my friends can give you a beautiful analysis of this from the ordained/vocational-Christian side, and they know they have my respect for all they have done to prepare themselves to lead us in lives of authentic discipleship and for all they do to manage their own lives in a way that both models following Jesus to us and encourages us to do the same. They do a nice job of personally attempting a faithful rendering of CHURCH; but we have so many cultural components that work against them!
My solutions "from the pew" would work over years to change our culture to one that encourages training in scripture and ministry for all able-bodied members and also encourages participation in the economy outside our churches for almost all staff. We should use the PCUSA-Book-of-Order type of credentialing for volunteer involvements, encourage vocational experience and training outside of ministry training for all potential Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, and move the Church away from being one more industry and back toward the call it should be for each and every Christian.
If we are going to live the way Jesus taught us to live and teach others to do the same, we need to reclaim the reformed and presbyterian vision of that kind of Church. We need to interpret it anew in the culture of a world economy in the 21st century where education is widely accessible and every one of my readers has access to a computer on the internet that joins us all to more information than any one of us could read in a lifetime, let alone learn. A high regard for education and high requirements for our vocational Christian leaders needs to take whole new forms at this point, because we are in a completely different world in terms of education and knowledge than in the early days of our tradition.
I'll end all this by apologizing for not being able to list the books and persons who walked me through to my views here. My ideas are not my own, of course. Like you, I live in a soup of information and analysis and story.
My story is mine though. As is yours.
And we are writing ours, together with God!