Yesterday I was writing and realized I was going on too long. So here’s the second half of the conversation on idolatry…
Three Specific Idols (I feel like these are major ones for this area)
-Wanting to know what will happen and make plans isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. So, whenever we start having church serves we’ll have a printed bulletin that will lay out what we’ll be doing during church. Visiting a church can be very unnerving and I think an order of service will help people feel more at ease.
-As a church we’ll be tempted to think we can make things happen. When starting a church you have to have plans and strategies. We could come up with this great approach that is well researched, well thought out, and well executed and inadvertently put our confidence in our abilities rather than God. Instead we’re going to shoot for goals that we can only accomplish if God works and regularly remind ourselves of our complete dependence on him through a church life shaped by prayer. On the inside of the church, from the beginning we cannot rely on ourselves and try to maintain some illusion of control.
-As Presbyterians our church is governed by elders who, after being elected by the congregation, lead the church. People don’t get to vote on everything and have their say. This is hard for people who want to be in control. One of the membership vows of presbyterian churches is a willingness to follow the church’s leadership. It is built into the system that we must trust others (ultimately God) and not grasp for influence.
A number of years ago I had friend and mentor who would talk about the “hospitality of Jesus,” with Romans 15 in mind, “welcome one another as God in Christ welcomed you.” When Christians talk about the church being a place where people belong, we’re usually thinking, “finally, a place where I am included and at rest.” Rather, if we want to confront the idolatry of “belonging to something” as our source of significance we need to see how God has made us welcome through his son. Jesus took the place of the outsider and outcast so that we could be taken in as his children. Based in that acceptance we need to take risks to make others at home. We need to change how we think of the church, from “this is the place where I belong and desperately cling to it” towards, “this is a place of belonging where I welcome others, even when it disturbs my sense of belonging.”
It is good to try your best with the abilities and resources that God has given. It is corrupted when we daydream of success, are depressed without approval, and willing to sacrifice anything to avoid failure. As a church do we need to walk this line of striving for excellence in all we do because the world around us values excellence. If sermons are disorganized and illogical, music is off tune and sloppy, the website is twenty years out of date, or the bulletin is full of grammatical errors it will be that much easier to dismiss the church and her savior. If on the other hand there is an absence of actually confessing our sins, a pretended holiness, an unwillingness to admit mistakes and too much pressure on those who lead to get it just right, we are living out that same idolatry of performance. There must be a humble excellence; a desire to strive coupled with a freedom to fail. Again, this involves wisdom and nuance. It takes a continued engagement with the gospel which says that performance matters, Jesus is the only one who has succeeded, and we, as his broken vessels, show his beauty as the light shines out through our cracks.