This month's sychroblog topic is Down We Go, and is not a book review of Kathy Escobar's book of the same name, but is about our experience of following after Jesus into the crowd who listened to Him introduce the sermon on the mount with the beatitudes, and thus about our experience of breaking with a life of upward mobility.
I do want to recommend Kathy's book! She does a beautiful job of articulating a wonderful view of faith, church, and ministry! If you are a regular reader here, you are likely to love her book and her blog.
My perspective is similar to hers, and probably similar to others who will post this month, but I have been led by life to a place that has some twists in the views I held even a year ago, let alone 3 or 5 or 10 years ago.
I still believe in community and in the bigger community of the CHURCH in the world, and still support my denomination in its polity and local congregations, but I no longer see any of that as being at the center of the action. Nor do I see wonderful communities like Kathy's, nor our larger communities like Emergent Village, nor our conferences or unconferences or virtual communities as central to what God is doing.
I support my women friends in ministry, and I support the wonderful women theologians and authors and speakers that have finally started to approach real leadership. I support other groups who have been marginalized as they finally start to get tiny bits of justice and real leadership roles as well. So I need to qualify everything I write next by saying that it should be practiced first by the WHITE STRAIGHT MEN and isn't intended to be a call to those from marginalized groups to give up newly acquired leadership roles and power. We each need to hear and follow real wisdom that applies not only to our own situation but to our impact on the larger systems!
But this is the thing: being able to read and write publicly is a mark of power. Having a computer and smartphone is a mark of power and privilege. Being able to use twitter and facebook and attend evangelical and emergent and progressive and denominational conferences is a mark of power and privilege. Being able to connect to those who organize a synchroblog and interact with other bloggers on a topic each month is a mark of extra time and energy and the ability to connect with that community . . . thus a mark of power and privilege.
Pursuing power and assuming power has its place (when it is done out of a life of prayer and submission in response to the call of God and others), but our ideas of church and ministry are more about career goals and a pursuit of the American Dream than they are about real service. God and the church and society need most of us to go get jobs where we are not paid for the books we write or the church role we fill or the speaking opportunities we can get, or even for the community of faith we can build from scratch. We need more people to actually live out a life of service and love in the midst of the daily reality most of America experiences . . . while holding down a job and getting the kids to school in the morning and to bed at night . . . and fewer people to start new churches or try to re energize the old ones.
There are many people looking for a savior, and they aren't going to find the REAL SAVIOR in any of our local expressions of ministry. That isn't to say that Kathy's church isn't as amazing as she feels it to be, or that I was not ministered to by St. Andrew's in my need, or that St. Mark isn't an amazing community of faith-with-feet. I wouldn't have just joined St. Mark again last weekend if I wasn't convinced that congregational life still has an indispensable role in discipleship and worship. But salvation isn't centered there! Individual, relational, and corporate healing and restoration and worship is not primarily led by those who make their living at it. God's primary means of grace in sharing the real gospel and infusing it into the lives of real people is through the lives and words and love of those who center their life around the gospel without assuming the role of minister or leader.
I love my friends who have been educated as pastors and preachers and scholars/professors/writers/teachers of theology and ministry and biblical studies, but I have watched the "job market" for them and the church and institutional politics in which they live. I have watched the competition and the stars and the losers in the game. And I have watched the economics of it all.
I love my friends who are laypeople and who love our congregations and seminaries and colleges, and support them financially and by many hours of volunteer time. Many of them have education and giftings on a par with those who earn their living through the church and the schools, but have done what they needed to do economically to be the support to a whole industry of faithful ministry to our generation. I see their hearts, and know God's love for them!
But to both I have the same message:
Let the church fail. Let the seminaries close. Let the denominations die. Let the old shell of God's power pass into antiquity.
We are called to all the old ideals. I still love the Book of Order and Book of Confessions of my denomination, and still am passionate about that vision of the CHURCH. But that's not my primary calling, nor is your primary calling to your ordination or to your vision of the church or of ministry.
Our calling IS down. We are called out of a pursuit of "the kingdom of heaven" the ways we thought we saw it or knew it, and called IN to a pursuit of loving action in the reality of our lives today. That means we get to translate a real faith to footsteps and words and hugs in our real homes and real workplaces, and on the streetcorner of the part of town that scares us, and with that guy sitting on the sidewalk by the Del Taco you go to each week.
Kathy has great points to make in her book about inclusion of those on the margins, and that has been a big theme in my life too . . . but we don't have to go to her church to experience that, and it isn't primarily in church that we MUST experience it. We are called to be people who make friends and who SEE people . . . the invisible people.
We should be engaging the people waiting for the bus as we jog by. We should be people who consider the mood we perceive tonight from the checkout clerk at Stater Brothers, and be able to compare it to her mood three days ago. We should be in prayer for the coworker that everyone hates and wishes would quit. But none of this should flow from that word I used in each of these sentences . . . that "should" word. All of this should flow from real transformation, real power.
Following Jesus in an incarnational demonstration of real spiritual power will usually come to us when we are filling the same kinds of roles in society that nonchristians fill. Following Jesus in a mystical experience of the Triune God will usually come to us when we fit our time of prayer and study into the same daily routines and pressures that our non-religious neighbors live daily. And following Jesus in fulfilling the great commission will usually be at its most powerful and effective point in our lives when we have learned to live what He taught us to do instead of writing about it, speaking about it, or marketing it effectively.
Anyone else down with me on this?
The other posts in this month's synchroblog are here: