I begin each PM with this basic idea that we are the church. I think Jesus’ vision for his church is that big and that inclusive. Everyone gets in on it, even people that aren’t sure whether they are “in” or not.
Being the church is hard work; living in reconciliation with one another, telling the truth in love, fighting for justice, et cetera. Always being on for Jesus is hard in a weekend-obsessed culture; when we do we get a break? That’s why Jesus stressed to his disciples that the harvest is great, but the workers aren’t.
So you might ask, “why can’t I just go to church?” Here are some reasons that people might be resisting being the church.
- You want to “sample” life. Settling down, committing yourself to a lifestyle and a body isn’t easy. Especially in a world where we are haunted by the fear of missing out. The experiences that others have are often so tempting that committing to a body can be really hard.
There are so many things to do and explore and see—especially for twenty-somethings who haven’t gotten married, had children, don’t have a career yet. The temptation to keeping serving ourselves until we can’t anymore is great.
Jesus expects an exclusive relationship with him, with his church, and with ourselves really. But the world teaches us to want to experience the best that we can from all ideas—instead of just trying to be something. We end up “sampling” it all and ending up with little satisfaction.
Jesus alluded to this in when he tells the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14. In the story a man was preparing a great banquet—we can interpret it as service to the Lord, bringing to the Kingdom of God here now—everyone has excuses. They have other things to experience, and so the man brings in people who are less wealthy (physically or “intellectually,” in fact).
- You want to apply our own meaning to the world. Not only must you follow Jesus to be the church, we also must do so with some collective discernment. As a leader, I apply my meaning to what we are doing. I’m leading you to do something with me. (And you lead me and others to do other things to.) Our design team tells us why we are singing songs and how to use them. Our leadership is a team effort, but we aren’t all leading at the same time and we need to follow too.
For postmodernists, it’s not good enough to be led into something, we must be the ones leading ourselves into it. But being the church means having to mutually submit to Jesus and to each other. Submitting to a truth that is greater than you are is hard, these days.
People with lots of power—which is what I think how the Internet and our smart phones make us feel—might have a hard time mutually submitting to each other. Note how uncomfortable Jesus, who is applying meaning to the whole universe, makes Pilate feel in this interaction.
Pilate is trying to figure out Jesus according to his rules—he tries to make him a king to understand him when Jesus plainly tells him he has nothing to do with his system. He’s applying a new and better meaning to what we’re doing. And he says it’s the Truth, too.
Pilate’s concept of truth, morality, and justice is distorted in his potentially dead-end job, working for a self-serving Empire. At some point, he really needs to ask “what is truth?” Narcissism quickly turns into nihilism. The meaning that Jesus is applying here is keeping the world afloat, really. Being the church does that very thing.
- You want to be unknown. Rooted in narcissism is the fear of being known. Narcissists, which the U.S. seems to specialize in producing, put on a false image of who they are because they want to be well-liked and well-received. Being in the church surrounds you by people who know you, and know your act, and love you despite it.
The illusion we tell ourselves is that we are faking everyone out—but your friends know and love you still. Jesus loves and knows you too. So being the church might be avoided for that reason too—you have to be known.
It’s hard for people who don’t know how to be loved and haven’t experienced it get put into such a hard position. But in order to love fully, we need to be known.
In Paul’s magnum opus on love, he clearly is telling the Corinthians this very thing. Being known is a very adult thing to do. And it’s hard, just like being the church.
Paul admits that the way we know ourselves and the worlds right now is limited. And he acknowledges as we walk and venture toward completeness—as we bring the Kingdom of God here and now—we becoming more known. We become more adult and less childlike. “Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
It’s a beautiful image of what being the church is—working toward fully knowing and being known. And that’s not for easy for everyone.
Later this week, I’ll talk about why you might be “over” the church, and why Jesus wants to you to be the church.