Tent people or Temple people

5_tent-church

The other day I was visiting a parish in Madras. After the service I was talking with the elders. I asked them ‘What function does this church perform?’ They were a bit embarrassed. Then one of them said, ‘It caters for the needs of its members. I said, “Then it should be disbanded.'” (Bishop) Lesslie Newbigin, 1974.

This quote certainly makes you think about the purpose of the church in today’s context. However unfortunately, many people still think the church is a club for ‘do-gooders’, and a place where we can just care for each other inside the four secure (or maybe crumbling ) walls.

This quote from Leslie Newbiggin , addresses the fact that the Church is not about looking after the people who attend this so called ‘exclusive club’… but the primary function of the church is to walk with those who are outside the church, to address injustice, and to reach out to the unlovely.

Whether we like it or not, many Christian churches have developed into  ‘Temple People’, putting their efforts into maintaining buildings, looking inward when we should be looking outward. One church I know removed some beautiful stained glass windows and replaced them with plain glass … so they could see the world buzzing about outside the church building during their Sunday service.

The early Church in the New Testament focussed their energy in gathering, praying and discerning, a ‘Tent People’ looking outside as to where to pitch our so called ‘Tent’. Some Churches can be excellent at addressing the needs of people outside the church … they are very switched on and aware of what needs to be done, nevertheless, ‘Tent people’ are not just about doing the caring and serving; Tent people need to be with God , listen to what God is calling them to be, and be flexible and be open enough to move with the times.

‘Tent people’ are nomadic, as they sometimes can be seen as doing things a little differently, nevertheless the words from Newbiggin area real challenge to all of us, … not to be complacent, not to assume we have the right answers, but to listen to the guidance of God’s Spirit that moves deep within us.

God of the Tent and Temple

Help us to be aware of the needs of your world

to Listen , and not to assume we know best.

to Encourage , and not to assume we can do better,

to Love, and not to state conditions .

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Walking on the edge

walking on the edge

Every year, ministers in the United Reformed Church attend a Spring/ Summer school. This year is an opportunity to consider with colleagues what is means to be part of the ‘Leadership team’ in URC churches in the 21st century. .

The speaker‘s opening words caught my attention, ‘Leadership ..  is a risky place to be ,for  if you are too near the edge you can fall off into chaos, and if you are not on the edge you solidify and become stagnant’.

In past years, church members have been associated with the Church from cradle to grave ( many  over 60 and 70 years),  absorbed faith knowledge and then repeated it. Hence the phrase, it’s always worked, it was fine for me, so why change ? Change can mean uncertainty and anxiety, but if we are to be on the edge, then change must happen. By that I mean not just about Church buildings, but about a change of heart and understanding of what it means to be a disciple and be a relevant church in today’s society.

The question was posed that being ‘church on the edge’, means that we must appreciate that society has changed. In the last 40yrs, Medical knowledge has increased, so too has Technology, Engineering and of course  Theology. We live in an age where we have a choice, and vital to our choosing is discussion and discernment. Alongside that is journeying with people, who are trying to find out what God means to them, through discussion not blind acceptance.

Its seems to me that being in ‘Shared Leadership in Churches (and by that I just don’t just mean  the minister but the whole appointed Eldership as well) can easy be perceived as ‘Management’, however management is about problem solving. Leadership asks the question .. why are we doing this and is it the right thing to further the Kingdom of God..

For the church to have a viable future, the Gospel must not just be spoken about , but to be lived out, where forgiveness and inclusivity changes lives, and so transformation to hope and wholeness can be visibly seen.

I have no answers, save that I know that I believe the people of God need to know they are beloved and treasured by God, and that the rebuilding of trust, restoring confidence and renewing of hope must happen. I am grateful for David Grosch Miller for his thoughtful reflections, however he left a challenging call to all of us … we are called to be, not just pastors…. but prophets. I am grateful he used Moses in Exodus as an example of Leadership, with all his faults, flawed humanity and hesitations, he trusted God.

God who led your people out of slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey,

We pray that you would lead us to the edge,

Not so we can fall into chaos, but we can see the true landscape ahead of us

Be in our minds that we may reflect on issues of faith with clarity

Be in our mouths that we may speak words that bring wholeness

Be in our steps , so we may walk alongside the edge with confidence knowing you are there to hold us and guide us.

We ask this in Jesus name

Amen