let me begin by thanking and applauding (can you applaud on the blogosphere?) the commentators who took time to take part in my little “mclaughlin group” project. i am grateful for your investment, and i’m sure many others appreciated your thoughtful submissions as well.
if they were to be (loosely) grouped, the contributors would fall into three categories:
1.) insiders: these are guys who are entrenched in the church “system” and see things through a career/vocational lens.
2.) prodigals: these guys have previously been deeply involved in church, but (for one reason or another) have withdrawn.
3.) outsiders: these guys are acutely interested in spiritual things, and even profess a faith in god, but have little/no interest in attending church.
as we draw conclusions from this extended conversation, i think it important that we carefully consider the perspective from which each essay comes. clearly, the attitudes and opinions that each of us carries toward the church are colored by our experiences. with that in mind, i would like to synopsize the characterizations of the church presented by each group, rather than any individual. i humbly submit that i am aware of some of my prejudices and preconceptions, and, while i love the church, my perspective is tinted by my experiences. i ask you in advance to grant me a little leeway in my generalizations, and forgive my intellectual shortsightedness (and if you cannot, i ask the holy spirit to develop the fruit of patience in your life).
as a group, we are rabidly committed to carrying out the great commission (matthew 28:19-20) but no two of us can agree on how best to do that.
those of us who are in full-time ministry struggle to separate our ministries from our individual identities and that creates all kinds of other problems: we feel competitive toward each other, we determine our value as people based on the success of our ministries (and how do you measure that?), and we are quick to criticize ministries we don’t understand (especially if they are “successful”). we are co-dependent people pleasers, and we are secretly afraid that people will find out what we are really like. the ones who love us the most are the real victims of our neuroses–thankfully, god has given them a special, ample dispensation of grace. we love to stand back and take long-distance shots at the “church system,” all the while being acutely aware of how foolish it is to bite the hand that feeds us.
bottom line: full-time ministry is a hard job with amazing rewards and inescapable responsibilities (bone-crushing responsibilities). and while are critical to the point of hypocrisy, we really do love the church and we want to see her advance.
the insiders that wrote in this space all acknowledge that the church is in need of drastic change and the task is almost insurmountable. yet we remain hopeful. kevin said: “The church is exactly where it has been led to be.” i happen to think he is right and that fact terrifies me and encourages me simulaneously (“these complacent, self-centered people are here because of me? at least there’s a chance we may yet become what we were meant to be.”). i am passionate about my call and i want to spend my life pursuing god’s purposes for my life. i want to see the kingdom flourish in my lifetime. there is one enduring truth on which we can rely: Jesus said, “I will build my church.” (matthew 16:18)
i just don’t want to be “the gates of hell.”