“It’s time to take back our church.”
I heard that phrase just recently. It’s a fairly common mindset around the United Methodist Church these days – and maybe throughout our history. Our governing structure of representational leadership fosters the multi-headed monster that is politics and persuasion. In order to enact change or to keep what you believe is faithful, you have to convince others to take your side.
It happens at all levels of the church. In local churches I have seen people burn up the phone lines fear-mongering and rabble-rousing in order to stop some new initiative. At the Annual Conference* level I have watched preachers devising ways to get “the right” people voted in – especially in years like this where the Annual Conference is voting to elect delegates to General Conference*.
The problem with this phrase “we need to take back our church” is that this is not our church. This is Jesus’ church. He died for it. He established it. He sent it out into the world by the power of the Spirit that raised him from the dead.
The problem with the phrase “we need to take back our church” is that it declares that the church belongs to some people and not others. It says that others are not my brothers and sisters in Christ, they are the enemy. Even if we argue against that idea and say we are one in Christ, the political maneuverings and wild accusations put out into the public sector demonstrate that at best we tolerate one another and at the worst we distrust one another.
There is only one who can be trusted with this church, or any church. The one who established it. The one who leads it. The one who gives it the power to change the world. God Almighty – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God is the one who can be trusted. It is time for us to let go, take the church out of our own hands and put it in the hands of God.
The Word of the Lord says this:
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
(2 Chronicles 7:14)
I believe we not only don’t trust each other, we ultimately don’t trust God. We work feverishly to save God’s church. In one way it’s like we have our roles reversed. We’re like a parent who doesn’t want their child to be disappointed with a poor outcome for their grand efforts and tries to help with a project. We are trying to “help God out” by saving His Church. In another way, we are the child trying to gain the approval of a parent by presenting them with a spotless room hoping for a word of affirmation or a reward of some kind.
I think that passage from 2 Chronicles gives us a way forward in our local churches and our denomination (maybe even the as the church universal). We have to exhibit a greater spirit of humility. We have to take time to pray. We have to give this over to God and allow God to work. We have to trust that God is working even when we don’t think God is working. Who has the greatest investment to protect, us or God? Who has the greater motivation to see the Church made stronger and more faithful and more fruitful?
It seems to me we need to offer prayers coupled with humility through fasting. If we as leaders – clergy and laity alike – would do that, then maybe Jesus could take back HIS church and there would be hope for the salvation of the world.
Just a thought.
Holy high-five to you,
*Annual Conferences are geographical groupings of UM churches to which clergy belong as covenant members and in whose boundaries said clergy find themselves appointed. General Conference is the once-every-four-year representational gathering of clergy and lay delegates who address any needed changes in how we structure the church and live out our faith.