This series began as musings on the circumstances in five churches where there were no apparent moral, theological, or social divisions, but all were going through a time of painful split in the body. In every case, at the center of the pain was a pastor embroiled in controversy over leadership style, vision and decisions. In my last post I wrote a Memo to Pastors, today I am going to bring this series to a close today with a memo to the Laity.
To Faithful Members of the Body of Christ everywhere,
I began this series by asking the question, “whose church is it anyway?” And if you read along with me you know my response:
“It’s your church. The church is about the people, not the pastors."
Pastors are part of the church with very specific, but limited, God-ordained roles to play. But neither THE church universal, or any church particular belongs to the pastor. And no church member belongs to any pastor either. It’s your church, because it’s Christ’s church.
My friends, I am writing today remind you who you are together. In an earlier post I told you that the most important thing that I learned in seminary is that in the NT the “yous” are plural. They are “y’alls”.
Y’all are the temple of the Holy Spirit. You together are the place where God’s presence dwells on earth today.
Y’all are the body of Christ on earth. You together are God’s activity working in the world to bring the Kingdom of God to earth today.
I believe that once we Christians recover that important biblical truth, we’ll be on the way to healthier, happier congregations. Once we remember that everything in the New Testament is about teaching us how to be together the body of Christ, the Temple of the Spirit, then we’ll never approach the church the same way.
The church is not the place where each of us finds resources for our individual Christian journeys. The church is not the place where each of us gets our needs met, finds our purpose, or gets “fed”, the church is not “a place” or about “each of us” at all. The church is all of us. The church is “all of us” in a local place being the tangible, physical, actual representation of the church that is “all of us” in all the world. That church both local and universal is the body of Christ on earth today. The Temple of the Holy Spirit on earth today.
So here is my charge to y’all: Be who you are. Be who y’all are.
It’s the job of us pastors to remind us who we are and to equip us to live out this shared identity together. Indeed, this is primarily what our teaching, preaching and leading are all about.
In his discussion of New Testament ethics, Richard Hays demonstrates that the community, not the individual, is the “primary addressee of God’s imperatives,” in order to form a Christian Community as “alternative order” witnessing to the life-changing presence of God. (See Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, 196.)
This is good news to us, because recent studies have revealed that while Christian belief alone doesn’t lead to demonstrably different lifestyle choices than non-Christians, regular churchgoers do show a marked increase in charitable giving, environmental causes, civic duties, volunteerism and other socially desirable activities and a significantly lower levels of drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, and other social ills. (See Rodney Clapp, “On the Making of Kings and Christians: Worship and Christian Formation” in Todd E. Johnson, ed. The Conviction of Things Not Seen: Worship and Ministry in the 21st Century 113-114.)
In other words, if y’all will be who y’all are, the difference God makes in life will be revealed to the world.
I guess in closing I want to remind all of us of this all too obvious truth. Because part of being who y’all are is also acknowledging what we are not. So here it is: We are not perfect, we are not even particularly good or spiritual all in all. Mostly we are just messy, broken humans who are like porcupines in a winter storm. We keep huddling together to keep warm until we start poking each other. So, this church thing is hard work. It takes both thick skin and deep commitment.
But it was messy, broken humans like Peter, James and John that Jesus first called to be his disciples and become his body. And today, it will be messy, broken humans that God will use to be his body in the world and reveal his presence in the world.
If y’all will be who y’all are. (And that includes me, too.)