In his book, Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are, Pastor Tim Sorens explores the question “What is the purpose of the Church?” His concern in this book is not what the church believes or how we worship on Sunday morning but having us think through how the local parish church can take practical and actionable steps to be the light and leaven where we live and work, and not simply an end unto itself. This autumn study covers eight weeks.
Sorens has written a book that teems with hope and possibility for the future, a hope that the church need not reiterate our mistaken past, and a possibility that real people in real time and real circumstances can live out the why of God.
The church (meaning both The Church and our local congregation) can either be about institutional decay or vibrant movement. We can either be preoccupied with survival and maintenance or we can be moving forward in creating and renewing both our church community and our wider secular communities.
The church is not a building, it’s not a budget, and it’s not a hierarchy. Rather it is the people of God, doing the work of God, and bringing the light and spirit of God into the world.
We in the church too often ask the wrong questions such as “How do we fix the church?” or “How do we make the church more relevant?” No one outside of the church cares about these answers.
People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Those who start with “Why” have the ability to inspire (literally, to fill with the spirit) those around them.
Our Why is “God’s Dream.” For Soren, God’s Dream is that of a reconciliation and renewal of all things for, as Paul writes, “Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Cor. 5:18
The middle concentric circle is concerned with How the church carries out the Why. The answer to the How is to “listen intently and pay attention to the Holy Spirit, who is already at work” and simply join in.
We must listen before we become active. He names this active listening before being programmatically active as “sacred curiosity.” Too often, he writes, we are helpful without being curious. We seek to provide answers without first actually figuring out the questions.
The question is whether the church is about a performance or about a community.
As a particular congregation, with a particular story, in a particular place, we necessarily have our limitations. However, those limitations help establish our particular charisms. Most importantly, these limitations give us the ability to see what portion of the Invisible Church we are to go out into.
At this level, we have the power to change the systems based on our local situations, local needs, and local resources. Limiting ourselves at the parish is a strength because limitations take us out of the theoretical and into the practical.
We are called to become intentionally rooted in our community and to be woven into the life of this community. This means physically going out in the parish, not simply to be of service but to be with others.
Church divisions, particularly those that mirror the divisions in society, make the gospel a lie. If we vilify our fellow Christians and create a community based on a mutual dislike of the other, then what do we have to offer the world as an alternative way of being.
Being part of the same team means moving from isolation to awareness, polarization to curiosity, and fragmentation to integration.
As we open our eyes and engage in sacred curiosity, we should not limit ourselves to those who look like us, vote like us, or even believe like us.
Instead of focusing on needs and problems, what if we focused on the gifts and strengths of those in our community? What if we decide to look for assets and not needs? As Soren puts it, let’s focus “on what’s strong instead of what’s wrong.”
If the church is to win over hearts and minds, to bring about change at the neighborhood level, and to heal our divisions, we must be present in our neighborhoods and to think long-term.
By prioritizing Connections we are fighting back against the storm of individualism and polarization that is overtaking our society. Every good thing that we seek to do in the world, should start with these Connections
For this week’s lesson, we are going to share our own personal experiences and insight into how and where the Spirit is moving in Myrtle Beach. I want us to share the opportunities that we have to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.