If a stranger turned up to one of our Congregations, without any prior knowledge or previous experiences of religion, what conclusions might they come to about our God?
From their careful observations of us, would they imagine our God is… a person? Or maybe… a system? An organisation, even? And would their impressions of God be positive or negative? Mind-blowing or simplistic? Beautiful or terrifying?
Now imagine that they also managed to get hold of a copy of the Gospel of Luke – a historically accurate biography of Jesus’ life – would they recognise the person in that book in the God whom we talk about? Or would they be surprised by what they read? *
If they could ‘join the dots’ between the Jesus they had been reading about, and us (as a group of people), it would indicate that we are doing something… right. But if they were unable to do that, what would that say about us?
It could indicate that in some way, in our gatherings together, we are doing something… wrong. But what might that be? And how could we find out? Do we have a ‘discernment process’ for this kind of thing?
One way of doing it is to read the Gospel of Luke, and write down everything that Jesus encouraged His first disciples to do. Then, to write down everything that we encourage the people in our congregations to do. Finally, we could then play a game of ‘spot the difference’…!
By circling anything which appears on both lists, and underlining anything which appeared only on our list, we should be able to identify any obvious discrepancies. What our leadership teams should then do about this new clarity is not always immediately clear.
However, Jesus does have some important things to say about change, particularly in Luke 9.57-62. His instructions in this passage are very challenging, but also very clear. All of us (and leaders especially) must be willing to:
- Count the cost (i.e. before you commit – work out what it will mean for you)
- Let it go (i.e. leave needless things behind – even your legitimate loves)
- Just do it (i.e. don’t procrastinate and/or delay unnecessarily – take action)
Jesus calls us to follow Him more than to hold on to our well-established and predictable religious practices. The things we do (especially when we gather together in Jesus’ Name), should remind people of Him. It should be obvious to everyone who our God is, and what He is really like.
By Dan Rogers
* The inspiration for this post came from the first chapter of a book by Hirsch, A., & Hirsch, D. (2010), with the title Untamed (Shapevine): Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship. It is published by Baker Books.