Monday, August 22, 2011

Confronting the Utopian Church

“We look at what has been given to us in our Scriptures and in Jesus and try to understand why we have a church in the first place, what the church, as it is given to us, is. We are not a utopian community. We are not God’s avenging angels. I want to look at what we have, what the church is right now, and ask, Do you think that maybe this is exactly what God intended when he created the church? Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing up in Christ, for becoming mature, for arriving at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church. (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 14).

I love this passage from Peterson but I also have a distain for it. He brings us as leaders into the realm of sober reality while not leaving us to settle for reality as we know it. Too many writers and speakers about the church are in the business of talking about an ideal utopia. They pull on our heartstrings because most if not all of us want church to be a different experience than what it currently is. And we are drawn forward not to be a new reality but by a dream-like unreality. To be honest, every time I read another promise for a utopian church experience if I only adopt the plan of the writer, my heart wishes it were true.

It’s not that we don’t need new experiments that explore new ways of being the church in our world. It’s not that we don’t need to call into question our current experiences. We need both. But Missional Community is about as far from a utopian experience as anything I’ve ever known. Missional Community actually leads us into a greater revelation of reality. Our struggles come to the surface. Our pain is shared. Our relational unhealth is open for all to see.

Some respond with some kind of cheerleading mantra like, “Yes, this is the way it should be. Now we are getting into real church.” But when people respond this way, I know that they are only talking about the dream and not living into it. While the experience of Missional Community is one of the greatest joys of all of life, it is revealed in the midst of death. If you are really living it, cheerleading is not necessary and talk of a utopian ideal is ignored. Just like there is not utopian family experience—something that everyone who has been a parent knows—there is no utopian community. But when you have it, you know that it brings life.

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