“That’s Nice but That’s Not Church…”

Last month, several of us – staff and facilitators for the Ministry Collaborative, met in Boulder, Colorado to discuss the future of what it means to be church.  The amazingly creative ways many of us are navigating the uncertainty of the times is both encouraging and inspiring.  Uncertainty can, at its best, stir ingenuity, foster invention, and fuel innovation.  But as Christians, uncertainty can also make us reactionary – and not in a good way!

I can remember as a young pastor feeling the pressure to come up with some ‘new thing’ some ‘new way’ that made the Gospel relevant and attractive to those who had grown bored with the ‘old ways’ and were in search of something else to capture their attention and affection.  I found out, however, that much of what makes us resilient, and durable is not our ability to imagine new ways of relating the Gospel or sprucing up the image of our institutions, but it is in our ability to remain steadfast, consistent, authentic when it comes to just a few things – a few very old things…

Now, don’t misread me, I’m not suggesting that we resist change and the overwhelming need to remain sensitive to what’s going on in the world, or to retreat from the pressing matters that are impacting our lives.  I’m not suggesting that we avoid experimenting and faithful risk-taking. But I am suggesting that how we navigate these shifting and often contrary winds is inextricably bound to how we must remain deeply rooted in what is the crux of our faith.

In the name of innovation, I have often heard the phrase quoted from the Apostle Paul, “I’ve become all things to all people that I might win some…” (1 Cor. 9:23).  While I appreciate the sentiment, I want to graciously challenge the inclination to embrace indiscriminately the ways of our consumeristic, capitalistic, performance-based culture in order to keep up with what is going on in the world.  We don’t need to make Jesus “cool.”  As one who didn’t grow up in the church, this stuff always looked a bit corny to me anyway – pardon my bias!

But, as shiny, attractive, and successful as some of these things may appear, we must not allow the ends to justify the means.  We must not allow even the most noble of our causes to draw us away from our identity that is rooted in the Gospel – that is Christ crucified, buried, and raised again – whose Spirit is living and active among us in the world!

The Gospel, the message of Jesus – both declared faithfully and demonstrated in practical ways – is still what it means to be the Church.  We must be careful that our message is not diluted and that our means and methods do not become a distraction – it is a subtle but necessary consideration that goes a long way toward keeping us true to God and the message entrusted to us.

Unfortunately, friends, this means that every “good idea” that comes up is not necessarily a godly one, and even our noble intentions must be scrutinized by the Spirit and with persistent prayers for discernment.  I have an inkling that we may discover that some things, while they may be good ideas – slick and fascinating, innovative, and enthralling – are just not Church.  This realization, however, does not need to be seen as limitation, in as much as it presents an opportunity for us to focus, to remain focused, or to return our focus, and to tend what is the most important – Love, Justice, and Charity!

While it may seem like bad news, I believe that this is actually Good News for us – liberating news – that the Gospel of Jesus is still as relevant, powerful, life-giving, and transformative as it was two thousand years ago!  And when we trust the Gospel, we can with a sigh of relief and with joyful resignation say, “that’s nice… but that’s not church…”


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