14 August 2010

Towards a Leaner Body

Whatever Today's Visible Church may be or fail to be, or do, or fail to do, I think few of us would deny that as modern institutions go it's very busy. Indeed, when I imagine the American Church today - and by that I mean pretty much any and every visible US church - about the most vivid image that comes to mind is that of a vast, unbroken, and not only unbreakable but largely uninterruptible stream of activity. And certainly one that appears to be covering immense ground in its pursuit of that Great 21st-Century Project known as doing more with less. Which, in practical terms, usually translates into trying to do more in five years than any mere organization should ever contemplate doing in fifty. And with less of just about everything one needs to run a church well: Less judgment, less patience, less understanding, less discernment, less charm, less delicacy, less passion, less truth . . . but above all, less people.

And that in turn - assuming my experience is not atypical in the extreme - usually translates into less help, and more bitterness, cynicism and self-pity.

What I fear more than ever nowadays, concerning a Church adrift in the (corporate) World, is more and more of her priests and other religious, her ministers and other workers, getting caught up, pulled along, and so immobilized by the irresistible momentum of the machinery of their work, that they can neither step outside of it, nor reach up (to God), nor reach down (to man), but must keep on doing what they've already been doing, ever more rapidly and mindlessly. Until at length both they and others are locked, so to speak, between the multiplying gears and sprockets, and "crushed."

What I fear, in short, is an organizational Church not only:
(1) less and less able to give much in the way of help to anyone (other than, of course, the usual advanced-reservation parties of six or more); but also
less willing to ask for help; and even
less willing to accept help when it's offered (as in "we happen to like our feelings of overwork, stress and burnout, thank you very much").
And of course
(4) always willing, like any good perfectionist, to pick to pieces whatever help it does bother to enlist. Thereby lending a new and wholly unexpected meaning to the ever-popular phrase "lean and mean."

Or even, perhaps, restoring to that phrase its very oldest meaning of all?

But don't take my word for it. Here's what St Paul had to say to the Galatians:

"But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." (Galatians 5: 15 - KJV)

And yes, I know, that passage is commonly read in light of the verses that preceded it - i.e., against the backdrop of 1st-century "Judaizers" ' demands for Gentile Christian circumcision, and the inevitable doctrinal wranglings that followed. But isn't there a wealth of evidence from the rest of Galatians 5 (to say nothing of I Corinthians 8-13!) to suggest that Paul was also addressing the simple, day-to-day business of believers getting along with each other, and learning to work together, in the same House?

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