Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Ship is Sinking

The Church is falling apart.
There are factions that each try to get their own way. Different groups think that they are right and say that others are wrong. Each side has strong leaders who use our faith as a weapon. And the different groups sing, pray and claim Jesus’ blessing for their cause.

Oh – do you think I am describing your church? No, I am referring the Christians of Acts Chapter 15.
Act 15:1 Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." ........Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them.....
Act 15:39 The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

Here is the “body of Christ” divided by dogma, and culture, and history, and ideology. Factions strive for control, and use church rules to retain power. And there is very little trust in one another.

Which feels a lot like the Christian Church I experience today. We Christians are completely divided over issues like homosexuality, women Bishops, interpreting the Bible and methods of sharing human wealth. We hold synods and conferences as platforms to advance our agendas. And we convene pressure groups and garner votes. And we all claim to follow Jesus. The ship is sinking under the weight of our politics and desires. And it seems to me that the church has always been sinking – ever since the beginning.

I want to abandon this ship before it sinks. I do not trust the captains of this ship – Bishops and National Christian Leaders are the bane of my life. They have ulterior motives to their platitudes, and little interest in my struggles as a church pastor. It is as if the process of moving from local church leadership to regional leadership transforms decent Jesus-followers into followers of their own darker selves. I also have no faith in the direction of Church Conferences/Synods/Conventions/Gatherings. The stirring statements and the carefully corrected doctrinal positions of the national and inter-national church are the product of pressure groups and caucuses. A strategic use of meeting protocol will get an astute person almost any desired outcome.

There are some who say “The church is not great – but it is the best option there is”. Well I disagree. There are better organisations that the church – organisations that offer unconditional comfort, love and care to broken people in ways that the church has yet to learn. The church is floundering on the rocks with very little to offer our world.

This said, I am committed to this ecclesiastical ship. This has nothing to do with its ability to float. I know that this ship will not save me. I do not stay because I have faith in the organisation. I stay because I have faith in God. It is the call of God that keeps me here. I experience this as a deep, abiding knowledge that this is where I should be. I experience this in the accountability to friends and colleagues who I trust. I experience this in serving the people given to me by God.

In staying, I have discovered a deep joy in serving a local congregation.
I have experienced awe and wonder in the faith of anonymous people who follow Jesus with honesty and integrity. I have been encouraged by people who turn up week by week to share a faith expressed in the symbols of bread and wine, to share communal worship, and even to listen to my reflections on faith and scripture. I am humbled by their willingness to love me in all my imperfections. I am encouraged by their stories of struggle and joy. I am all too aware that my own faltering faith is kept alive by the wonderful people who choose to meet me each week.
And I am grateful that God has called me.

This is a calling that holds me on the crumbling deck.
This is a calling that will not allow me to jump ship.
So I stay.
And I fight fires.
And I trim the sails.
And I plug leaking holes.
And I encourage fellow sailors.
And I will do this until God tells me to stop.

1. You can see that I write from within a large denominational church. I have no clue what it feels like to be in an independent/congregational model of church.
2. You will also understand that I am not planning to leave this church.