Sunday, February 12, 2017

Church: It's About Influence, Not Size

Maumee Bay State Park (Ohio)

As I watched the beautiful twenty-one-minute film with Bono (U2) and Eugene Peterson (The Message, et. al.), and heard Bono speak of how Eugene writings have influenced him (especially The Message and Run With the Horses) I thought of the power of influence. 

Here we have the power of small. Peterson is a small man with a capacious heart for God who pastored a relatively small church. I want to be like him.

I want to be used by God to influence people. I want to be part of a community of influence. Eugene Peterson has helped me with this. I have slow-cooked through his The Contemplative Pastor at least three times. I see #4 on the horizon. Maybe after I finish reading Run With the Horses. I can't even get past the Preface, because Peterson writes:

"The American church seems to have lost its nerve. Leaders are stepping up to provide strategies of renewal and reform. If the sociologists are right, more and more people are becoming disappointed and disaffected with the church as it is and are increasingly marginalized. The most conspicuous response of the church at this loss of “market share” is to develop more sophisticated consumer approaches, more efficient management techniques. If people are not satisfied, we’ll find a way to woo them back with better publicity and glossier advertising. We’ll repackage church under fresh brand names. Since Americans are the world’s champion consumers, let’s offer the gospel on consumer terms, reinterpreting it as a way to satisfy their addiction to More and Better and Sexier. 
The huge irony is that the more the gospel is offered in consumer terms, the more the consumers are disappointed. The gospel is not a consumer product; it doesn’t satisfy what we think of as our “needs.” The life of Jeremiah is not an American “pursuit of happiness.” It is more like God’s pursuit of Jeremiah." (Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best, Kindle Locations 58-62) 

Wow. Everything in me resonates with this. Peterson is a crazy, prophetic bearded man typing on a computer overlooking a Montana lake. From his isolation come words for the world. Is anyone listening?

In America masses of people say they believe in God and are "Christians." But in proportion to their size their relative influence is miniscule. My college teaching experience and research tell me that "church" is not on the radar screen of most of today's young adults. Yet the hype goes on...

You might be "small" as a person, or "small" as a church ("church"= a community of persons following after Jesus in his Kingdom-mission). There might only be twelve of you. Yet God could use you to influence the world. Remember the Twelve.

When I was traveling and teaching in central India I addressed a group of thirty medical students who were Jesus-followers. One of them asked me, "How can you start a revival?" My answer was, and still is: "When revival happens within you, then the revolution has begun." Historically this is how it always happens. Moves of God begin small. They don't happen in mega-situations. (For by far the most part, right?) God could do something in you, right now, that he could use to influence multitudes. Remember the mustard seed.

Could a mega-church have influence in proportion to its mega-ness? It's possible, but it would have to be muscular and lean. If a mega-church was the spiritual equivalent of one of the Biggest Losers, then we would have a huge but flabby and non-influential church. It is a mega-task to maintain such a church with its massive size and massive couch-potato-ness. Remember the cost of discipleship.

Influence happens underground. God's Kingdom is an underground movement. It is subtle, subversive, revolutionary, and very powerful. This rarely (if ever) happens on TV or the Internet. We spectate and watch "revivals" happen on TV, but televised moves of God are not themselves moves of God (or rarely so). Remember the seed growing secretly.

Leadership is influence. Therefore everyone is a leader. Leaders for Christ are led by Christ. Therefore they hang tight with Christ, and the stuff that made for Christ's influence gets into them. Remember that we participate in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)

Yesterday Linda and I were sitting in a Subway eating lunch together. She had just begun to read Run with the Horses. She said, "John, you have got to see this quote from Peterson, who is quoting William McNamara."

My grievance with contemporary society is with its decrepitude. There are few towering pleasures to allure me, almost no beauty to bewitch me, nothing erotic to arouse me, no intellectual circles or positions to challenge or provoke me, no burgeoning philosophies or theologies and no new art to catch my attention or engage my mind, no arousing political, social, or religious movements to stimulate or excite me. There are no free men to lead me. No saints to inspire me. No sinners sinful enough to either impress me or share my plight. No one human enough to validate the “going” lifestyle. It is hard to linger in that dull world without being dulled. 
I stake the future on the few humble and hearty lovers who seek God passionately in the marvelous, messy world of redeemed and related realities that lie in front of our noses.

"The few." I want to be counted among them, don't you?