steve knight, who moderates the emergent village blog (among lots of other cool things!), asked me to expand a bit on “the born again church” for the conversation over there. umm, yeah, in case you haven’t noticed, i love to ramble on about my dreams for the church. i thought i’d re-post it over here, too. here’s what i wrote:
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in a covert conversation in the middle of the night, Jesus, in john 3, shares with nicodemus what it means to be born again. i love this imagery—a religious ruler sneaking out of his house so no one would see him because somehow this wild & crazy guy named Jesus had gotten under his skin. Jesus’ response to nicodemus have become pivotal words in the history of evangelical christianity—“no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (v. 3). i remember the day that i was “born again” in Christ. the day will be etched in my brain & heart forever. but it didn’t stop there. it wasn’t a one-time experience where i “sealed the deal and then was done with it.” rather, it was the beginning of many more spirit-led experiences where i knew i needed to shift, change, grow in my relationship with Jesus. i believe a huge piece of our personal spiritual journey is the ability to continually be born again, to be willing to readjust our thinking, our actions, all kinds of things, as the Holy Spirit moves & changes us. life experiences change. cultures shift. we grow up and out and into places we never expected. and with each twist & turn we are required to re-examine our faith, listen for God’s spirit, and be willing to be “born again”.
the same thing applies corporately to “the church”, the messy & beautiful body of Christ. i believe the church is in the midst of a major, history-making “born again” experience that is creating a wide range of responses from its people. some are resistant to change, satisfied with the status quo, and probably can relate to the religious order of Jesus’ time that said “hey, we have got this buttoned down, what do you mean we need to be born again? we’ve been doing this for a long, long time, and it is so working for us, don’t mess with it!” but there was a whole other group of people that got a stirring in their heart they couldn’t ignore, a taste of Jesus’ ways that they were desperate to live out. and who could have imagined that little wacky band of misfits would end up being part of changing the course of history forever? i think a lot of us reading this blog would consider ourselves in this category. a little like nicodemus, many have found ourselves sneaking off to have covert conversations with other people about the stirring in our hearts. our dreams for the kingdom of God keep us up at night & we can’t seem to shake it.
so what will it mean for the church to be “born again”? i know there are opinions all over the place on this one, but here are a few of my essentials of a radical shift in the church’s heart, way of thinking, actions.
recognize that it’s not really working for a lot of other people (even if it’s still working for us). let’s face it, christianity has a bad reputation. people are tired of our judgmentalism and lack of compassion & care for the poor and marginalized. while some churches are still growing, we need to remember that many many others are dying. people are leaving the “system” by the droves, and the new generation of young people isn’t too keen on joining into the existing monster. the old methods & rules just won’t work anymore.
continually humble ourselves & admit our mistakes. i think the world is waiting for this. they do not see christianity as a reflection of Christ. they see christianity as a reflection of power & control. something is wrong with that picture. corporately, we have a lot of work to do to demonstrate our humility, our heart for justice, peace, equality & diversity in actions not just words. this will take a long time to shift, but i believe it’s possible if we, as the body of Christ, draw back to the sermon on the mount as guiding texts for our faith.
be willing to be uncomfortable & let go of what we have always known. Jesus made it oh so clear that the ways of following him would require giving up what we held dear. the only hope for the church, in my opinion, is for its people to be willing to give up what we have conveniently relied on to make us feel comfortable & safe. we will have to shed things that hinder our ability to love our neighbor the way Christ calls us to. we will have to get honest about really tough questions: what is God asking us to consider that we really don’t want to do? what needs to change? what do we need to let go of? what do we have to risk? how can the true heart of Jesus be expressed through us, individually & as communities? what’s holding us back? what are we afraid of?
practice being more flexible & fluid. the church was always meant to be about relationship, not structure. to survive, i believe the body of Christ has to learn that its strength is in its heart not its skeleton. the more fluid we become, the more we can permeate & penetrate our neighborhoods, our cities, the world, one relationship at a time. we humans have a default mechanism to organize & build. i am not against that, i think some structure can be very helpful & productive, but i think we will have to become more adept at flexibility & fluidity, which means giving up mortgage payments, egos attached to org-chart positions, and programs that perpetuate the status quo & distract us from love.
learn how to do relationship, relationship & more relationship. this may be the part that is the hardest for us & is the most critical moving ahead. yeah, we talk about loving God & loving our neighbors, but when the rubber meets the road, real relationships are tricky especially when God is asking us to love people we aren’t used to loving. our greatest hope is to learn to love like Jesus loved. sacrificial love. crazy-in-the-trenches love. nonjudgmental love. we won’t hit it right, we are human, not God, but i do believe as we stretch & learn & try, more and more people will be touched by Jesus through us and the “church” will come alive in beautiful & powerful ways.
i realize this is barely scratching the surface, but they were the ones at the top of my head. i’d love to hear your additions & reactions, too.
i have so much hope for the church if we will stay the course & allow ourselves to go through the pains of re-birth over & over & over again so we can become a better reflection of Jesus in a changing world. it will be hard on us personally. it will be hard on us corporately. but i strongly believe it’s possible.
God, please help us to be born again. and again. and again.
p.s.: want to be part of intentional, challenging conversations about the church’s re-birth? join off the map live’s “the born again church tour” in seattle, denver, or los angeles this fall, featuring dave kinnaman, author of unchristian, jim henderson, co-author of jim & casper go to church, and more. off the map is dedicated to exploring new ways of thinking about and practicing what it means to follow in the ways of Jesus.