As I was completing this series of posts, on John Pavlovitz’s understanding of why people are leaving church,  I received an email containing a statement from Lisa Kimball who writes:

I have come to believe that the greatest threat to Christianity in America in the 21st century is not atheism, pluralism, politicization, Nones, Dones, or even sex abuse scandals and hypocrisy, although they are devastating. The greatest existential threat to Christianity is superficiality…

The first job of church is always to call us to go deeper, deeper than the superficial identities in which we so often attempt to establish our sense of self, deeper than a comfortable feeling of belonging to some group that reinforces our identity at a superficial level, deeper than pleasing emotion, deeper than our longing for affirmation, deeper than any crusade that gives us a gratifying sense of doing good or of being righteous.

The business of church is the business of the inner life. This is not an escape or a denial of the need to embody that which we find within. To travel the inner journey enables us to bring integrity, honesty, and consistency to all our relationships, so that we may live the power people encountered in the presence of Jesus. If we fail to do the inner work part of the journey, we will almost invariably fall pray to self-righteousness, polarization, enemy-formation, and burnout.

But if we heed the call to open to that deeper place where the Spirit of Jesus lives, then we will naturally work as agents of healing in the midst of “the separation of families.” Our communities will more closely embody the reality that all people matter and deserve the dignity and love that are our true identity. When we seek to live in tune with the Spirit who brought all creation into existence, we will naturally live with deep respect and care for all dimensions of creation and will become agents inspiring the human community to live more gently and kindly on this earth.

The church’s first task is to help us connect with an awareness of the love that is our true self. When we get this first priority in place, the rest will flow naturally in lives that are empowered by love and guided by truth. Grounded in our true nature, we have the capacity to live the truth of Jesus in whatever context we find ourselves.

There are many places, institutions, and organizations that do effective and transforming work in the face of the social struggles that confront society. We need to rejoice in and support all people in whatever capacity they work towards the deepening of respect, equality, and justice for all people and all of creation. But, in the church, we need to ensure that we do not lose sight of our primary calling, to heed the stirring of the Spirit to live in tune with the power of Christ in whatever capacity we are uniquely called in our particular circumstances.

It is the starting point that is important. In the church we start by announcing what it means to be deeply and authentically human. We then call all people to live consistently in tune with that identity in whatever context they may live. We are challenged to cooperate with that constantly renewing power we call Love. This is the force that sustains and inspires all of life. It never runs out, never burns out, never gives in to frustration, bitterness, resentment, or revenge.

This is the power Jesus challenged his followers to find in the depths of their being when he passed on to them his stirring vision of what a life lived in tune with his Spirit really looks like:

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. (Luke 6:27-35a)

Perhaps if we open more deeply to this Spirit of surrender and self-sacrifice and live from this place of love, we will find ourselves worrying a less about the possibility that people may seem to be leaving the church.