BY THE REV. DAVID MERRITT |
Sometimes in life, we find our plans are only an idea, a concept, or at best a passing thought. Easter is the conclusion of the Lenten cycle and ushers in a time of reflection in the scripture lessons. In Eastertide and the following Sundays, we see the church emerge from the shadows of Judaism. As such we see the developing story of the early church as it defines and discovers how the message of Christ is heard, seen, and felt in the lives of people both near and far. Plans are made and revised as the church is faced with difficult choices.
In our current church in North America, we too are asking questions about our viability and our place in society in general. Our plans, or lack of them, continue to change as well. The days when church life was on the back burner of almost every home is gone. We are in a time when traditional faith assemblies cry out to God for direction and vision. We ask: “How do we share our faith with others? What is essential to our faith? What is our missional challenge in the culture in which we live?”
Other than to state the obvious, let me suggest some comparisons about how the early church saw itself and our situation in the current world. The early church was not afraid to try new ideas and strategies. Instead of seeing itself as a business with a set plan for growth and expansion, the church saw itself as a living organism. The leaders and members worshiped together, shared the cup and bread, took care of its members, and listened to the voice of the Spirit in their midst. As members of the body of Christ, they developed a process where they could learn and grow as situations changed around them.
I believe we should consider a more organic model of leadership and community in our current life as believers. The church should seek flexibility and community as it learns, grows, and reaches out to others on the path of life. Church life is more than simply rules and regulations. In order to survive, churches will have to continually adapt and sense the movement of the Spirit in how it lives out the great truths of the resurrection message.
Another unique aspect about the early church is that they often failed in their efforts but still continued to grow. Often leaders faltered, groups clashed about customs and theology and there were divisions and factions in local churches. It was a messy business one might say. But in the lives of the church through large councils and daily life, the church chose new methods of serving the Risen Lord. It was difficult and sometimes painful but the early church saw new insights and structures that promoted a lively reflection of God’s love for the whole world.
Our fear of failure often keeps us from doing our best for the faith we profess as Christians. We often retreat to the structure of church life rather than the spirit of church life when challenged with unreceptive listeners. Churches that maintain a generous amount of risk find their efforts produce positive results. Engaging our community outside of the walls of the traditional church brings into focus the spirit and fervor of those early church saints. As Bishop Weingarth often said, “the seven last words of a dying church are: ‘We’ve never done anything like that before…’”
So, our task I believe is to keep our plans and objectives in line with a lively understanding of faith the women and men shared as they made their way from the Open Tomb. They told the story and cared for others in the fellowship of faith. They shared their resources, made choices and decisions based on their current situation, listened to the Spirit as it moved among them, and told the world of God’s love beyond the confines of culture and tradition. And yes, they did not always get it right…
Let us take a look at those who walked among us, empowered by the newness of God’s new day. And as we build together, may we be willing to respond to the challenges and opportunities that we encounter. Plans will change but the hope of all the ages will endure…and we will continue to tell the “old, old story” made new each day!
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them… – Acts Chapter 4
About the Author
The Rev. David Merritt is a retired Pastor, former Dean, Outreach Director, and Chaplain, but he’s “papa” according to his grandkids. David loves God, Laurel Ridge, and his family. He has enough sense to get out of the rain but prefers raindrops anyway.