Anyone feeling anxious?
A better question: anyone not feeling anxious?
God’s people in the 21st century suffer a serious malady. We mouth the words of faithfulness while we live lives dominated by anxiety and frustration. For every time we parrot “God is good, all the time, and all the time God is good,” there are dozens of times we obsess about our stock portfolios, job security, terrorists or some political crisis. The great gap between our rhetoric and our actions is at the heart of the dysfunction of many local churches and individual Christians.
Living as though the words of scripture or the teachings of Christ are irrelevant for our day and age is a shortcut to conflict and chaos. The church was designed by God to operate under one overarching assumption: we are God’s people, and as such, we live distinct and independent from whatever culture we find ourselves in. When we lose sight of whose we are, we become something dark, ugly and unholy.
Some have called us “resident aliens.” Others use biblical images of “a city on a hill,” or “a people set apart.” The core truth is that we are to be unique, “in” but not “of” this world. This is not an invitation to disassociate from the culture around us, but to live in it and transform it, offering an alternative view of reality and of the future. God’s people are to permeate the world with a deep and abiding love of all people and all of God’s creation. Our place is not locked up in a building or isolated from culture, but fully immersed in the world that we live in, living as salt and light to those who think that life is limited to what they can see.
Peter Steinke’s book, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times has an intriguing subtitle: “Being calm and courageous no matter what.” Does that describe you? Your church? If not, you probably suffer from what is commonly called “mission drift.” You have veered away from your call and your mission. You need to be reminded why you are here.
In the midst of our anxiety and our wandering from our divine mandate, a local church can find its way toward health by spending more and more time on its mission and their resulting vision of their future. I often ask congregations three simple questions. Eleven words. How you answer is critical to your future:
Who are you?
Why are you here?
Where are you going?
Usually, after the biblical rhetoric and God-talk fades, when I press for answers that are specific to that congregation, a blank look emerges and most have to say: “We’re not really sure.”
Our highly anxious times demand that you seek and find clarity around these issues. Nothing will cut through the confusion of the age, the discord within your church and your disconnection from your community like clear answers to those questions.
If you don’t know where to begin, start with the origin of the church. Read the book of Acts. Spend several days in Acts 2, then keep reading. I’m increasingly convinced that understanding and appropriating the book of Acts is the key to our life in the 21st century. If you want to be a healthy congregation, your future is tied to the words you will find there.
Steinke recounts the story of three bricklayers who were working on the same project. The first bricklayer is asked what he is doing. His answer: “I am laying bricks.”
The second one replies that he is “building a wall.”
The third bricklayer says, “I am building a cathedral.”
In bewildering and anxious times, congregations and clergy need the third bricklayer’s vision: focusing on the character of God, the mission given us, and what is possible as God’s people. When we get clear about those things, we emerge as light in the darkness of our day. We become the ones who manage the ups and downs of the stock market, the insanity of the political arena, terrorism, our health, and a myriad of other issues with a deep peace and joy that passes any and all understanding.
We regularly entreat clergy and congregations to please “not waste this crisis.” Whatever your crisis is, God is inviting you to manage it in a way that distinguishes you from our culture. When we allow the Spirit of Christ to guide us, we exude and personify faith, hope and love. Using anxious times as an opportunity for witness and faithfulness affords us the chance to accomplish our prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.” Might it be so in your life and in your place of worship this week.