Leaping like leprechauns
“Your church is probably the most hip of any church in Sydney, but that is like being called a giant among leprechauns”.
The guest preacher at the Moore College chapel rehearsed this humorous comment before he preached a great sermon.
The comment began me thinking. Are our churches really ‘stunted’, and even the best ones don’t rise above knee height?
We can do better
Part of the response has to be that we can do better than we do. We sometimes stick with safe and familiar practices not because they are right but because we can get away with it. There is enough goodwill amongst congregations, and sometimes even our community to blunt the requirement to change.
Many of the blogs on this site, like those of Raj and Michael, give great advice about how to do things better, so I won’t revisit them now. But I want to ask whether we should ever expect to be treated as more than leprechauns?
Looking in the wrong places
I am convinced that the church will always be seen as unimpressive, small and weak – no matter what the reality because the assessors are looking in the wrong places. I notice that in Ephesians 3 Paul can declare that the forces in the heavenly realms have their jaws dropping at what God has accomplished in His church, but in the same paragraph Paul has to urge the church not to lose heart! The reality is very different to the perception.
The church is always marginalized by mainstream media, except when the church does what the media wants: and so churches are praised when they listen to the commenters rather than their Lord. Because the media has no time for lives transformed by the gospel, our society does not hear of eternal changes. This is compounded by the fact that Christians usually do what Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount. They don’t do their acts of righteousness before me to be praised by them. Rather they do it in secret. Secrecy can be confused with leprechaun.
Secondly, the church is assessed by what it does on a community or national scale. The problem is that the church does not function as an institution. It is believers gathered around their Lord. And the work of God in the lives of individuals is so often powerfully invisible to the broader community. By the grace of God people are moved from death to life, from darkness to light, from enemies of God to sons of God, from mortality to immortality. But this is not often seen. And this transforming activity of God transforms other people with whom those who have been transformed come in contact.
A few weeks ago the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party was celebrated. This movement changed the country and indeed the world, but for many years it was a few people who lived in desolate, unpopulated areas in caves. No one noticed them. But transformed by their beliefs they changed the nation. It is the same with the gospel. Individuals are radically and eternally changed. Their change is used by God to change others…but this is largely unnoticed.
So I expect people to always think the church is irrelevant. But it is still the apple of God’s eye, the bride for whom Christ died, and still does life transforming work.