Sometimes it’s hard to get ourselves out of the way. Our expectations about how God should act may keep us from experiencing the movement of God’s Spirit. Sometimes we must lay aside our opinions about how church should be to enjoy the present wonder of God’s emerging forms of church. Like Zacchaeus who struggled to see Jesus through the crowds, we too need to leave the safe ground for higher branches.
Through working with churches of many sizes and flavors, I’ve come to realize that every one of us who is involved and invested in a congregation carries an internalized picture of what church should look like. Our perception of what a good church is and how it should function forms over a long period of time. A variety of experiences and dynamics shape that visual. Ask anyone how their church is going these days and that person will answer based on their own ideal of what a healthy or effective or pleasing congregation looks like.
Though they develop naturally, our preferred church preferences complicate the crucial renewal of Christ’s church. When situations lead our congregations to new opportunities for transformation, being willing to adjust our expectations becomes part of our calling. Speaking for the Jerusalem church, James suggests that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God by complicating their growing faith with Jerusalem-shaped expectations (v. 19). Instead, James urges them to get out of the way and make space for God to shape the Antioch church as God sees fit. James’ prophetic voice also calls us to get ourselves out of the way so that we’ll get caught up in the way of Jesus.
What does your picture of the ideal church look like? How similar is it to an actual church? What adjustments might we make to not inadvertently “trouble the Gentiles turning to God” in our contexts?
God, help us to love you, and others, and especially your church more than we love our internalized picture of what the church should be. Amen.