The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

March 13, 2010

Maybe Churches Do Work

It is probably not cool to comment on one’s own blog post. But I began thinking after I posted “Why Don’t Churches Work?” that in the end I had concluded that perhaps churches work perfectly.

The problem is not that churches do not do what they are supposed to do; they do exactly what they are supposed to do. The problem is, we do not want churches to do what they are designed to do.

Churches are spiritual training grounds. They exist, like all of life, to give our spirits a rigorous workout. The problem is any “rigorous workout “ I have ever had has always been painful.

Jesus said, “Every branch that bears fruit the Father prunes to make it bear more fruit.” (John 15:2) Nobody likes pruning. Pruning hurts. Pruning feels like loss. We are all inclined to resist pruning. But pruning is essential if the branch is going to “bear more fruit.”

When we fight against pruning, we hinder our ability to “bear more fruit.”

Richard Rohr says, “On the spiritual path the enemy isn’t pain; it’s fear of pain.” Fear of pain causes us to run away from the pruning process. When we run from the pruning process we become a barren branch.

The church community offers a place where we have to choose to stay with the pruning process. We have to choose to stay for no other reason than the fact that this is the place in which we are called to exercise faithfulness, patience, and steadfastness. The problem with every other community is that there is always an extra reason for staying.

We stay with our families because we are blood relations and whatever we do we can never really get away from them. We stay with our jobs because we get paid and perhaps we gain a little status from our employment. We stay with our jogging club because it encourages us in the discipline of running and helps us keep fit.

There is no reason to stay with a church community when it becomes painful. When there is disagreement in the church we can always walk away. When we feel let down by church, we can just stop attending, or go somewhere else where we feel we will be less likely to feel disappointed.

There are so many good reasons to leave a church. There is only one reason to stay.

We stay because that is what Jesus did. Jesus stayed all the way to the cross. Jesus stayed when they betrayed him, ridiculed him, beat him, and finally crucified him. And, in Jesus we see that it is by choosing to stay that resurrection happens. It is by bearing the pain of life with no hope of reward, that we are refined and made more fruitful. When we choose to stay against all odds, the space that we call our “heart” grows in its capacity to know God. And, as the little fox says, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” All other communities focus on what is visible “to the eye.” Church alone calls us to open our hearts to “what is essential.”

So church, with all of its failures and all of its shortcomings, is in fact the gift God gives to enable us to begin to see what is real and what is true. It is the church’s very failures that provide the opportunity to fall more deeply into the grace and mercy of God. Our faithfulness to the people God has given us as community, enables God’s Spirit to prune us in order that we might bear “more fruit.”


Jaqueline said...

Christopher, you wrote:

'It is by bearing the pain of life with no hope of reward,'

..struggle with no reward? Is God asking that of us ?

I couldn't help think of this: "for the joy set before him , Christ endured the cross" .

You see I am thinking, your vision of church IS what church IS what people long for...

If depth of relationship, kindness, joy, peace are the fruit of this labour with each other, then yes bear the pain, but if we are being asked to stay with no reward other than the continuation of an institution?. Are we expected to stay with an institution that has forgotten who WE are?

And it is circular; what if because of sticking with an institution we people have forgotten who we are? What if we couldn't be bothered struggling with each other because we have lost vision of WHO the Body is?

Perhaps this threat of death to the institution is what is calling us to remember Who church really is?

Perhaps a commitment to relationship-the pain and fruit of it- is a recognition of the fact that each of us is part of Christ? That sticking with each other is an opportunity to show our love for Christ? What if we ourselves become the personification of the Joy set before Christ?

Perhaps it is this vision of ourselves that ensures the hope and future of church....

At least it gives me hope....

peace ( and joy! ) to all,

Rob H said...

I'm glad to see Christopher you have started back on your blog, though it would be nice to see it in a shorten view. Tough to read if on Twitter let alone read on my ITouch. (smile...)
Just one rant to another.

Seriously, nice to reply to you once again.

I agree with your assesment and I love Jaqueline's observation about the institution.

It is one thing to be Christlike and bear pain but to be beaten by the instituition which is man made and accept pain is quite another. That is why people leave and create a new community to try again to live with a christ oriented community without the man made rules of the beater. (You know what I mean)

Is is valid to say go forward in pain and growth will come.
The only thing I can accept is that Christ will see me thru changes and I have to be listening.
Leaving every community is not healthy even though it is our family.
In marriage type families we can have many splits or non conversations which is painful, even though they are formally connected.
We have to very careful in how we communicate to our spirtual (Church) family that we wish to see evolve but remain together. We cannot send messages that suggest it is one way or the other.
Somehow we have to work out our community church needs with the implied Institutional needs that can offend us or sounds like it does.
Cheers / Blessings

Nice to be able to rant again..

c. page said...

thank you Jaqueline and Rob for your thoughtful comments. I am working on a response to Jaqueline's questions which I will put up as a separate post.