Focusing on the attitudes with which we attempt to do church has the potential to guard against the dangers that inevitably accompany any attempt to impose on a community the kind of one-size-fits-all programming that inevitably ends up doing violence to the community.
Here are my final three attitudes for doing church that have the potential to support the growth of life-giving spiritual communities:
3. Flexibility. There is no one right way of doing things in the life of the church. It is tempting for those of us who have spent a life-time in church to believe that the ways that are comfortable and familiar for us are the right way.
If we are going to continue being church in the future, we must hold on to the love and presence of God known to us in Christ that is at the centre of our faith, while sitting lightly to any external forms that may be a hindrance or an obstacle to those for whom the forms by which our faith is nurtured are less familiar.
There can be no practices that are beyond being questioned. Every practice of the church must be examined using three questions:
a. Am I clinging to this practice because it is a non-negotiable essential ingredient of Christian faith or merely because its familiarity makes me comfortable?
b. If it is primarily for my personal comfort that I am clinging to a particular practice, I must ask a second question: Do I believe this non-essential practice to which I am clinging is likely to be a genuine vehicle for a deepening awareness of the divine for others or might it be an obstacle for those for whom it is unfamiliar?
c. If the answer to this second question leads me to conclude that a church practice might be an obstacle to people from outside the community of faith experiencing an opening to the experience of the divine, I must ask a third question: am I willing, in service to the greater well-being of the community beyond the church, to surrender my own needs and explore the possibility of change?
4. Openness. This is closely related to all the attitudes mentioned so far, but is so important that it needs to stand on its own. The four most important words we in the church need to add to our vocabulary are, “I may be wrong.” We seek to embody truth in the church. But we are not the truth we seek to live. All formulations of truth are human constructs. We seek to live by the guidance of the living, moving, transforming power of God’s Spirit, not some dogmatic formulation, institutional structure, or liturgical practice that is enshrined for all time and to which all people must pledge allegiance. We acknowledge that discerning the outlines of God’s truth and embodying that truth in life is a tricky business. We must never forget that
now we see in a mirror, dimly… Now I know only in part. (I Corinthians 13:12)
5. Authenticity. People want to be together in ways that are genuinely and honestly human. They do not want to be forced to pretend in order to feel that they belong. The church is a community of people who know we are broken. There are two things that make it difficult to experience belonging in any community:
a. the refusal to accept the brokenness of our own lives
b. the demand that other people be less broken than they know themselves to be.
We seek to be people whose lives flow from a place of love and acceptance. We seek to have porous boundaries in which it is easy for people to experience a sense of belonging to whatever degree they are comfortable. We hope to avoid being a place where people feel pressured, shamed, or driven by guilt. We trust absolutely that God’s Spirit of truth and light lives in every human being and we want to support every person in giving themselves fully to the work of God’s Spirit.
To adopt these five attitudes in the church may not create an instant flood of people to occupy our pews. But these attitudes will help us live with integrity the faith in which we trust and to embody more deeply the love and truth which as Christians we believe we see manifest in the life and ministry of Jesus. These seem like worthwhile goals.