Spent the day talking about church. The setting – 2nd day of a 5 day intensive course. Twelve masters students in the class, all serving as Christian public leaders in some capacity.
The day started with a seemingly easy assignment…in a few sentences write your definition of church. Answers included – being the body of Christ or living community. The church’s call to the world was acknowledged, as was the church’s role in shaping both our identity and our actions. Students named the core work of our Lutheran tradition as proclaiming GOD’s Word and administering the sacraments. And at one level, our task for done. The group had done great work. And it was only 30 minutes into an 8 hour day on this subject and they’d offered good stuff.
But, since they’d paid for the class and I had planned various activities and lectures, we decided to continue. Next on the order for the day was ‘opening our imagination.’ We listened to two songs which portrayed very different views of church. Great discussion followed, both naming realities and inviting reflection. Then we moved to our own experiences of church. More diversity surfaced and conversation deepened. Then we wondered what Scripture had to say, what our denomination had to offer, and ended the morning wondering what views of church culture offers. Now, 3 hours later, the earlier definition we offered somehow seemed too simple for the complex world in which we find ourselves.
If you were asked to participate in this exploration, what would you say?
If we scan history we get a really big view of church. And in doing so our view of church gets both bigger and smaller. Here’s what I mean. Some of our current ‘givens’ might not be so necessary. (For example, we had a great conversation about what people thought of the organ in worship when it was first introduced! Or wonder what people thought about using bar tunes as hymns!) And some of our ‘auxiliaries’ might be more essential. (Things like caring for one another and seeing that the needs of our community, internal and external, are attended to.) We might also wonder about things like location and leadership, things like passing on practices across time and learning the Christian story, about how (and when) we connect faith communities and the place our theological commitments have, and we might wonder what it means to faithfully witness to GOD’s love in our time and place. These wonderings have not been easily answered in other eras. Truth is, they probably won’t be in our either. But history does offer some perspective, if we step back far enough.
What do I know? I know my view of church has gotten simpler, and more open to possibilities. I know God loves the world and all humanity. And GOD’s mission of loving the world includes inviting the church, GOD’s people gathered and scattered, into that work. I know that calling includes communities of people located in particular places, a geography if you will. But I also know it includes people or groups sent out, mobile units or people with particular foci or ministries. I know being the church includes some practices, and I’ve come to believe that being church includes a lot of improv. And much of the rest is a mystery. And I’m OK with that.
What about you, what do you know?
We pick this topic up again on Thursday. We left class with our definitions intentionally messy and unresolved. Live with us in the tension. Offer your ideas (I’ll offer them to the class), and I’ll post again on Thursday and let you know how it goes.