Fences and Wells

What does the church have that culture doesn’t have? More importantly, what does the church have that culture shows absolutely no interest in having?

Jesus Christ. The fullness of the gospel in its challenge and invitation. Unmerited, unearned, un-worked for grace.

If that is true, then why do our church boards so little time talking about, discussing, sharing, about Jesus. Grace rarely even makes a line item in the agenda under “other business.” The gospel too often is treated as a “given” in church life so we can proceed with discussions about the boiler, the church school curriculum, the music director search, or whether or not to remodel the building.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a “given.” Owing largely to the work of Paul Hiebert three decades ago, church board would do well to think about Bounded Set vs. Centered Sets.

Imagine a 300-acre cattle ranch. Even if a rancher could afford to fence in such a vast territory, most of the rancher’s time would be taken up mending breaks in the fence, with no time to care for the herd. This real challenge faced by ranchers in the American West as well as Australia, they came up with the solution: dig a deep, cool well at the center of the property. So deep, so refreshing, so quenching that the fence is not needed – no cattle would wander too far from the source of this nourishment.

The implications for church are broad and deep on this, but also for church boards. Dig deep. Drink deep. As one of my significant mentors told us constantly: fund the theological imagination of those around you. The only thing the church has to offer the world is the compelling story, model, and imagination of an experience of Jesus Christ. So, in our board meetings, why isn’t this first on the agenda.

Boards can spend constant volumes of time and energy finding and mending every broken fence. Or, we can dig a deep, cool, nourishing well. It turns out the only thing the church has to offer is the only thing we need—to give and receive—for a full, hopeful, grace-filled life. That experience should start with the spiritual leaders of every congregation!

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