If you were to ask us, every pastor’s cherished desire is for our church to become a beacon of hope in a world up to its waist in despair. That is why we try to build trusted groups and ministries out of which unflagging hope can rise. It hurts us as some feel dejected, disappointed and cynical with our life in Christian community.
I want to dialogue on this with Sam Wells, rector of London’s St. Martin in the Fields, as he parses out six key assumptions and projections in his own church.
First, it’s possible to be a church strong in our faith without being closed-minded or defensive. Jesus unabashedly declared he came to bring us all life in its full glory. God made each one of us just as we are because God wanted one of us. God wants us to live fully in this lifetime and not just in the life to come. I propose as we all eventually meet our Maker, it will shock us how continuous eternity is with this lifetime. This world and lifetime are part of the eternal, not just a trial run.
Second, it is possible for us to care for the ostracized or troubled in ways that enhance community rather than diminishing it. Christian community differs from other communities in that the challenge of gathering many identities and races actually enriches who we are. Here caring for others has less to do with any self-important altruism and more to do with recognizing that we need the stranger to help transform us. Because we look for Jesus in strangers, we don’t dread them.
Third, if we make the effort, we can be aspirational, financially responsible, and fully participatory all at once. Many great ideas fall to the floor never to be picked up again because they focus on only one of the three, and overlook the others. All three are beautiful, having their reason, place, time and season within our life.
Fourth, it is possible to grow as a church without becoming impersonal, trite in our theology, or imperious in our attitude. Loving our spiritual home, we naturally want to share it—like any good thing. But we don’t want to get so large as to lose the joys of having a community that interacts in accessible and humane ways. We’ve all witnessed something spontaneous and responsive become formulaic or stilted. Living in true partnership, our faithful practices keep us honest like this.
Fifth, incredibly beautiful things can happen here if we begin and ever insist upon perceiving each other’s assets rather than focusing upon our deficits. Fear-based communities always begin with shortcomings or past hurts as proof that God will never transform us, individually or collectively. What happens as we peel off labels like liberal or conservative, evangelical or progressive, wealthy or frugal, and instead see what God sees in us: passion, enthusiasm, generosity, even humility? God has given us all we need to thrive and prosper. Do you embrace that? Are you willing to cleave to that as challenges seem steep and forbidding?
Six, in the face of the church’s decline writ large, we dare to believe that in Christ our future is bigger than our past. In a storied church like ours, it’s tempting to take refuge in the past, our centrality to Darien and former ways of doing things. So many churches are limping badly as public discourse pines for a golden age. We are founded on two convictions: the forgiveness of sins, always allowing for healing; and everlasting life, claiming a future with no end. Do you believe our future is bigger than our past? Do you find inspiration and energy in our church?
September is right around the corner, with the resurgence of life within FCC, D. As I look at all God has given us in the last five years, you all give me great hope.