I’ve been part of countless conversations where people deliberate over the state of the church. Among church veterans this usually revolves around what the church has lost or is no longer. Among younger types such chatter circles around the church’s failures and supposed irrelevance. Different angles don’t change the fact that, quite often, such deliberations usually end up, to agonize with Shakespeare’s MacBeth, as “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Generally, we talk lots, but nothing really changes either in our perspective or in what we do about it. Recently, again, our small group spent an evening deliberating about what it means to be the church, the ekklesia of God in our small corner of Canada.
The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians referring to those growing followers of Jesus, living in a very challenging place, “…the church/ekklesia of God in Corinth…” (1 Corinthians 1:2). The Greek word ekklesia, carefully chosen by Paul, was in the ancient world a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public space for the purpose of deliberating. It was a word in reference to something akin to the town council.
It’s as if Paul is saying to the fledgling, floundering Corinthians, “You may feel like the odds are stacked against you, but you have the awesome, thrilling task of being intentional and calculating about what it means to be growing followers of right where you are planted.”
One younger member of our group pointed out that “deliberate” and “deliberate” are spelled the same, but with different emphasis. Both are words of action, but one implies heart and mind activity while the other is all about active follow-through. It seemed prudent to put them both together, and so, we took time to deliberate in hopes of becoming more deliberate in the living out of our conviction that Jesus as the resurrected Lord rules everywhere.
We asked for a question to chew over and one adventurous soul came up with this doozy: How do we help people in this multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-faceted city know the love of Jesus? Deliberate over that one for a while. We did. It was stimulating. It was disheartening.
Stimulating in that we live in an incredible area teeming with wonderful people, rich diversity, deep problems, and untapped opportunities. Your own locale will have its own sweet aromas and rotten spots requiring some stimulating intentional thought and calculated action.
But, our deliberating was also disheartening because it all seems so daunting. I don’t know my atheist or Sikh neighbours as well as I should like. The tolerant divides seems so wide. The messiness of life seems beyond the pale.
However, daunting to us in not daunting to God! As we deliberated we caught some of the breath of the Spirit that moves the impossible and moved us too. We felt a call to action.
What might happen if we deliberated in order to be deliberate in the expression of our faith more often? What refreshing wind of the Spirit might fill our sails? What daunting mountain might begin to move? What conversation may become more than sound and fury?
Phil Wagler lives in Surrey, BC where he deliberates about what it means to be faithful to Jesus in family, work, play, and community. He is a contributor on Mennonite Media’s Shaping Families and the author of Kingdom Culture (firstname.lastname@example.org).