People who love Jesus and His church are concerned. We are concerned because almost everywhere, the gospel of Christ seems to be losing its place in the American imagination. This is evidenced by declining church attendance, the loss of a younger generation’s interest, and a general decline in moral and ethical standards.
There are exceptions. Church planters sometimes gather large, targeted groups defined by age, ethnicity, social status. Charismatic church leaders sometimes attract a following. But these are exceptions. The current crisis has forced a serious reflection on local church ministry. What is the particular calling for Trinity Church? What is our mission? We know we need to work hard to see the kingdom of God take root in our community. How should we work harder? What new programs or outreach do we need? How do we attract more people? These are good questions but, perhaps, they are not the first question.
Eugene Peterson has helped me understand what I believe God’s future call for Trinity Church might look like. Peterson writes:
“Secularism marginalizes and eventually obliterates two essentials of human fullness: intimacy and transcendence. Intimacy: we want to experience human love and trust and joy. Transcendence: we want to experience divine love and joy. We are not ourselves by ourselves…We hunger for divine meaning, someone who will bless us.”
“Evangelicals have been uncritically internalizing the world’s ways and bringing them into churches without anyone noticing. In particular, we have internalized the world’s fascination with technology and its enthusiasm for activities…Instead of being brought before God and led to acquire a taste for the holy mysteries of transcendence in worship, we are talked to and promoted endlessly, to try this and attend that. We are recruited for church roles and positions in which we can shine, validating our usefulness by our function.”
“We go to our leaders for help, and they don’t seem to know what we are talking about. They sign us up for a program in stress management. They recruit us for a tour of the Holy Land. They enroll us in a course in family dynamics…When we don’t seem interested, they talk faster and louder. When we drift somewhere else, they hire a public relations consultant to devise a campaign designed to attract us and our friends…But they don’t attract us. We are after what we came for in the first place: intimacy and transcendence, personal friends and a personal God, love and worship.” (Eugene Peterson, Living the Message, pages 241-245)
Peterson has given me a personal mission statement for this last season of my ministry. It is summarized in two words: intimacy and transcendence. I want to be about caring well for others and for leading worship that allows a place for the Holy Spirit to move without frantic, human driven excitement.
A few weeks ago, I was pulling some weeds from the planter in the small courtyard between the sanctuary and the CLC. Just for a moment, I thought about the cloisters; the quiet, private places in the medieval monasteries. The clergy who withdrew into the monasteries came out of the world, not to escape the world. They withdrew into the monasteries and spent time listening to God in order to gain a divine perspective. From the center of an experience with the transcendent God, the work of these Christians was to pray for the world and then, in Jesus name, to serve the world. Something inside of me wanted to make a sign to put over the entrance to our courtyard. It would read “The Cloisters.” It would serve as a mission statement for the church and as a protest against church burnout. Could Trinity be a place to come out of the technology and enthusiasm for activities to find friendship with God and each other? Sometime later I thought better of making the sign. That mission seems too simple. That mission probably wouldn’t work in our secularized church environment. Youth and parents wouldn’t understand it. Simple relationships and transcendence without technology are quite out of style.