Castle Church Door
March 9, 2012
I was driving in my car listening to the Christian radio station, when an advertisement for the station came on. One of the DJs started talking about a runway girl who had found her way back to her parents through the station. It was a moving story. It ended by talking about the many things the station does as a ministry and it got me to thinking. Though God was mentioned in passing, the on air blurb really was about promoting the station and its work. This is not a bad thing, and I have every reason to believe the station does do good work. What it missed however was any sense that God was at work within it.
This commercial led me to a strange observation: we do exactly the same thing within the life of the church. We promote our ministries. We talk about what good things we do. We even invite people to participate as hard as that is for us at times. But do we actually name God as the one moving among us, or are our ministries really about us? It is a subtle difference – naming our ministry rather than naming God. Today we in the church find ourselves more and more on the margins of culture and society. We don’t do ourselves any favors when we claim (even innocently) that the ministry we do is really about us or the institutions we serve, rather than what God is doing in and among us. My own church’s denomination has a catchy slogan, “God’s work, our hands.” I think it was intended to help people see that God is at work in and through the many ministries of the church, our congregations, and the individual vocations of all the baptized. The problem is, we often forget about the first part about what God does and turn it inward to describe our efforts. No wonder we feel so deflated!
It’s easy to pick on our church denominations (and my guess is all of them do this same thing in an attempt to generate interest). But we all do it too (myself included), in our local ministries. Take any publication written by your congregation. You may even have written it. It could be a newsletter, magazine, website, blog, or whatever, it really doesn’t matter. Underline or highlight every time your church or a ministry is named. Then do the same thing for God. Notice anything? I was shocked when I did this (and I do much of the writing).
As someone who does a bit of writing in several venues I can say that the best things to write about are things that I find interesting or important. Not to neglect anyone out there, but I think it’s fair to say we often follow our own passions. But notice how we start to talk when speaking of our churches. The emphasis of what our ministries are doing or producing start to push God off the page. We start talking this way: Look what our church is doing in worship, social action, church planting, education, ecumenism or…(just about anything). We get a little over-excited about not just the ministries we feel called and passionate about, but we also unknowingly emphasize our own ability to carry them out.
Rather than scold or beat each up over this, I invite you to try something. Take those same underlined ministries or highlights from your congregation and substitute the word “God” for them. Plug in persons of the Trinity: “Our heavenly Father” or “Jesus” or “The Spirit” and see how the meaning of what we are talking about changes from describing our efforts to proclaiming God at work in, with, and under those ministries.
Reading through the New Testament is seems to me that people talked more about what God was doing than themselves. We could talk all day along about the earliest Christians, the early church and the manner in which they did things, or even what they believed doctrinally – but we can say with some clarity that when they spoke of what was happening among them, they weren’t talking about the church of Corinth’s youth ministry program or how good the music was in Ephesus. They probably didn’t come up with great slogans and logos to fight the social ills of their day in Thessalonica or have an advocacy office in the Roman Forum. Maybe they did – but they didn’t talk about it in the way our churches seem to want to prove our relevance in a culture that has passed us by. We live in a time when people have a natural distrust of institutions. So why do we speak of them as if they are saving the world?
Let’s start talking about God again. Did you hear about that young girl who ran away, and God brought her back to her family who was in constant prayer and networking through a local radio station? God used the gifts of those people and the medium of the radio to reunite that family. Wow!
I wonder if God is connecting people in my life too. Maybe – if we could only name it.
“Let anyone with an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7a)