There are a lot of voices tugging on the conversation that shapes on the life of the church. Unfortunately, a lot of them are external to the day-to-day workings of a local church.
If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of voices like civic religion and click-happy media here’s what I would like to hear us talk about:
It’s not enough to ask “what kind of church should we be?” We need to ask “what does it mean to follow Jesus together in this time and place?” The church often passively accepted the bulk of culture, while occasionally trying to “manage” a few key sins. It’s just not that simple. Every culture, city and neighborhood have virtues to be extolled and vices to be addressed.
We need to stop talking about what we do as a church and talk about whom God wants us to be in our context.
Most westerners are rich by global standards. Many are rich by western standards. When so many are dying of basic treatable diseases and living in filth, we often try to explain away Jesus words “blessed are the poor.” The church should be ashamed at its opulence, and protestants should be embarrassed that it took the Pope to bring economic discussions into the church.
But it’s more basic than macroeconomics. When we have a lot of stuff, we tend to rely on it instead of God. We need to start talking about how to trust God more and live with less. Maybe if we did we’d be better at #3.
It feels like our increasingly digitized culture makes us increasingly lonely. It makes me wonder if this is why cities, such as my home of Austin, Texas are becoming increasingly event obsessed. We’re lonely, so we try to do more cool stuff.
Friendship isn’t innate. It isn’t simple. I have an unsubstantiated theory that our difficulty at having friends puts an undue relational pressure on marriages and is a part of our rising divorce rate.
I once heard AJ Swoboda say “Jesus said that we should be willing to die for our friends. I’m not sure I feel that way and I’m afraid it’s a sin.” This is important and complex. We should talk about it.
It’s past time for Christians to become scientifically literate. This doesn’t mean acquiescing to everything that claims to be “science.” It also doesn’t mean allowing a single group like young earth creationists to dominate the discussion.
We need a hermeneutic for scientific ideas and advancements. We need spaces for well-informed conversations about the moral, ethical and religious consequences of scientific practices. We need to talk about evidence. Then, when we are finished talking, we need the humility to agree to disagree.
When we began to dream about a new church for our time and place called Austin Mustard Seed, my co-conspirator John Chandler joked that the most countercultural thing we can do in Austin is learn to take a Sabbath.
The Sabbath is the chief of spiritual disciplines because it says “I trust God provides, so I will regularly wait for him to do so.” Devoting an entire day to rest will require living disciplined lives the other six days. It will mean turning our screens off for a day. It will require relying on others to help us when we feel overwhelmed.
We’re going to have to talk about how to do this.
Do you know how to be a neighbor? I don’t. I’ve moved around a lot and created a string of relationships with people with whom I share hobbies or occupations. I ignore and sometimes avoid the people right next to me.
What made the Good Samaritan good was that he saw his neighbor, and then he cared for him. The church needs to b a place where we learn to look at what is all around us.
We need to talk with our neighbors.
4. Narrative Theology
Some churches put a lot of emphases on learning ideas, such as a “Christian worldview” or “systematic theology” or “principles of scripture.” These are useful, but they’re not really how we are wired.
Human beings are obsessed with cause and effect. We see the universe in terms of story. Knowing who Jesus is is a matter of knowing his story, within the grand narrative of God and his creation. Moreover, we need to be able to articulate how we each have our own narratives and what God has to do with them.
We need to become very good at talking about the story of God.
3. Hearing God
A few years back I became very unsettled by the vast difference between my strict cessastionist worldview and the interactive relationships God has in scripture. Our situation is different from that of Elijah or Paul, so we should expect God to interact differently with us.
But we should expect him to interact with us.
We should talk about discernment. Churches should be communities obsessed with discernment. We should constantly be asking “what has God already told us to do?” and “who is God asking us to be today?”
The basic gospel taught by the evangelical church is that God wants individuals to repent so individuals can go to heaven when they die. This is good and true. It’s not that this gospel is wrong, but that it limited to a formula for an individual. Moreover, it’s a formula for life after death, and says little about life.
Scripture talks about a God who empowers his people. It talks about how his people are the embodiment reconciliation between societal groupings. It talks about how his people are to carry each others burdens.
We need to talk about how to be a “we.”
1. Systems of Discipleship
What did Jesus talk about? Mostly, how to live.
What if we took this seriously: it is possible to be more like Jesus.
What if we talked about the means needed to become the kind of people that naturally wanted to do the things Jesus said to do.
What if that was all we talked about?
This post is part of a special synchroblog event. You can learn more on the Boots on the Ground Facebook page.