Saturday, 18 February 2012

Man the Lifeboats

Photo Credit: Grant MacDonald
There has been no shortage of discussion in the media and on various Internet sites lately about dwindling attendance in the traditional institutional church (hereafter called simply the “IC”). Even many prominent IC leaders have weighed in on the discussion, wondering what has caused this phenomenon and how to reverse the trend, believing that it is in fact a trend that must be reversed.

This isn’t only a problem unique to some of the mainline denominations; every major group from liberal to conservative, from Roman Catholic to charismatic, seems to be affected by it. Unless we’ve got our heads completely buried in the sand, we’ve got to see that something is clearly in the wind. The only question is, what?

There are many Christians who do not see all this as negative, but who are, perhaps strangely, rather excited by it as they anxiously wait to see what God is doing next. Mostly it seems that these are Christians who have long since left the IC and are busy redefining what it means to be the church. However, my point here is not to argue for or against the IC, but rather to issue a call to “Man the Lifeboats.”

Several years ago, when one IC that we were at was about to permanently close her doors, I remember a dear old saint say to me, “Where should we go?” A significant portion of her life was wrapped up in that place. The way she saw it, her ship was sinking and she was afraid of drowning. Many within the IC today are equally afraid.

Now if you or I worked as a lifeguard at some beach resort and we saw someone in trouble in the water, what would our response be? Would we argue the pros and cons of swimming lessons with them? Would we try and teach them how to make it safely to shore against the strong undercurrent? Would we stand back and watch as they went under? Of course not! We would instantly grab our life preservers and “man the lifeboats” as we rushed out to help them.

Should it be any different in the church? Again, of course not! Yes, I believe the IC as we know it is changing, whether we like it or not, but those caught in its implosion don’t need arguments and more teaching from those already safely on the shore. What they really need is for you and me to “man the lifeboats” and come over to where they are and help pull them out of the swirling waters that threaten to sink them.

Yes, there are a lot of signs that the IC as we know it is going down. At the risk of speculating too much, perhaps it is all a part of God’s design before the soon coming again of King Jesus. Who knows? However, one thing is for certain, our Lord is coming back for His church, His bride. He is not coming back looking for a specific denomination, and He is most certainly not coming back with a list of those who are in the IC versus those who are not in the IC. Could it be that some of us have forgotten that He is coming back for His bride, regardless where they are?

Where does that leave you and me? It leaves us with a responsibility, perhaps more now than at any other time in history, to be our brother’s keeper. The problem is, regardless what you and I think of the IC, the more that people leave due to what they perceive to be an irrelevant IC, the more the brothers and sisters still in the IC get caught up in the swirl of that exodus. Many of them are at a loss as what to make of it all. Many of these brothers and sisters are asking, “Where should we go?” Many of them are left holding the bag of empty pews and full mortgages. Many become angry and defensive because they feel abandoned.

Am I suggesting that we shouldn’t have left the IC? No, I’m not saying that. But I am saying that maybe it is time to be a little less harsh and a little more loving. We can fool ourselves by saying that, while we hate the IC, we still love the people in it. I confess that I’ve done that myself, but I wonder if it isn’t a copout. The problem is, our brothers and sisters in the IC don’t receive it that way. Since much of their identity is tied to the IC, they will receive a word against the IC as a word against them personally.

Maybe it is time for us to stop preaching to the choir, as the saying goes. Other than to unbelievers, maybe it’s time to stop preaching altogether. It’s hard to hug each other while we continue to hold those heavy theology textbooks. It is hard to pull the oars through the water while we’re swinging a bat at the IC. Maybe it is time to let it all go and “Man the Lifeboats.”

So here are our questions:
    Photo Credit: Jonathan McPherskesen
  • Can we really lay everything down, all our doctrines and idiosyncrasies, man the lifeboats, and be there for our brothers and sisters in all these turbulent times, of IC versus non-IC?
  • Is it actually possible that here and now, on the eve of His second coming, that King Jesus’ prayer of old for unity amongst believers (John 17), finally gets realized?
  • What if King Jesus returned tomorrow to find us all preoccupied rescuing each other, regardless of our doctrinal views concerning the IC, and proving that we really are our brother’s keepers?

That’s the way I see it anyway.

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