241. (relatively) small church and big questions
So let me tell you about the church I’ve been attending. It’s called Quest and there are two things I liked immediately about it.
First, it isn’t a mega-church like Mars Hill. After moving to Seattle, I went to Mars Hill for about a month and while I thought the teaching was good, it was just way too big, especially for someone who came out of a house church setting (see blog 175). Quest isn’t exactly a small church (three Sunday services), but it’s not so large that I feel anonymous.
Second, the messages are challenging – challenging in ways that go beyond me and my own little life, challenging in a way that more churches should be. What I mean is, their sermons are about initiating change in the world, about making the world a better place, about social justice. Their vision is local as well as global (a couple weeks ago, a woman shared about a mission trip to Congo and the pastor shared abut his trip to Thailand, Myanmar, and Japan).
This is exciting to me because there was a time last year when I was doing a lot of writing and thinking about the church and what it is that Jesus wants to do in the world through the church (see blog 216 for one example). See, I don’t think Christianity is just about getting people saved, especially if you narrowly define salvation as having someone pray the sinner’s prayer.
Now I don’t want to get bogged down in a debate about what constitutes salvation. What I’m trying to get at is the idea that Christianity has to be about more than just getting people to pray a certain prayer. When you look at the history of the first century church, you quickly get the idea that their understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Christ was very different from what it has become today. For them, identifying themselves as a follower of Christ meant they could be tortured and/or killed. Now I’m sorry if what I’m about to say next offends anyone, but I really don’t think first century Christians would have been willing to die for the kind of Christianity that gets preached in many mainline churches today.
As a side note, I understand that we live in a pluralistic, wealthy society and as such, it can be difficult for the gospel to find traction. By that I mean that we in America enjoy living in a place where we can worship freely. We also live in a place where even those living at the poverty line have it far better than most of the rest of the world. These facts might seem obvious to some but it’s worth mentioning because historically (and even in present day), Christianity is sometimes most richly practiced and experienced where it is most heavily persecuted. Again, I point to the first century church as an example of this. A more contemporary example might include the church in Russia before the fall of Communism and present day churches in the Middle East.
Maybe, in a way, it’s more difficult to live an authentic Christian life in a society without persecution. Wait, let me rephrase that. Maybe it’s more difficult to live an authentic Christian life apart from persecution. No, that’s not what I mean to say either.
See, I happen to hold the belief that the Gospel can bring life, meaning, and purpose to anyone – not just the oppressed, but for the wealthy as well. However, there are certainly ways in which it can be harder for the teachings of Christ to be lived out (as opposed to merely practiced or aped) in an affluent society. Even Jesus made it plain that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” (Matthew 19:24). And I wonder if what Jesus is saying there can be applied to nations as well – is it just as difficult for rich nations to live out the kingdom of God?
Okay, I’ve veered far off topic. What I had meant to write about was how the sermons at Quest church are challenging me to think about how I live out my faith in practical (and impractical) ways. They seem to have a very outward focus which I find a refreshing break from the inward, navel-gazing tenor of some other churches. I’ve heard far too many sermons about personal prayer and personal discipline and analyzing one’s personal spiritual health. I’m tired of all this spiritual narcissism.
I want to know what Christ wants to do about the widening political division in America. I want to know what Christ wants to do about AIDS in Africa and Asia. I want to know what Christ wants to do about the meth epidemic, about global warming, about corruption.
On a more personal, local level, I want to know how Christ wants me to behave at work. I want to know how I can be a blessing to my coworkers when much of my day is spent pulling files and boxes (I work in a warehouse). I want to know how I can use the gifts God has given me to further the work of his kingdom. I want to know how I (as a private, introspective, introverted sort of person) can share and/or live out my faith.
Big questions, big ideas, but my voice is so small (and my blog so incoherent).
One last thing about Quest. I like that the pastor freely admits to not having all the answers. He seems to be wrestling with some of the same questions I am and that’s tremendously encouraging to me.
The answers are out there. God has a plan and we have a part.
If I don’t write before then, happy new year everyone.