There is a lot happening in my life right now that is making it difficult to write posts for this blog, but I am trying. However, during this period, I've had another opportunity to preach, and that is now available below! Video captured by Stephen Hemenway, audio edited by Quenton Chestang-Pittman, video edited by me.
I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a point in the sermon that I am aware I did not adequately clarify when delivering it, regarding church membership and participating in mission. I stated at one point in the sermon that if the mission God has called an individual to and the mission of their church do not align, they should ask if they are at the right church. I stand by that statement, but I did not give any indication on what to look for when considering that issue, which feels irresponsible of me in hindsight. I do, however, have more room to explore that issue here than I would have as a tertiary point in a sermon, and I intend to take advantage of that fact.
What I mean by that statement is this: if God has called a person to a specific work, and called a person to a specific church body, then the person is also called to contribute to the specific mission that church is tasked with, and certainly not to hinder it. Likewise, the church is called to contribute to the specific mission the person is called to, and certainly not to hinder it. The Biblical statements about every member of the church needing every other member and every part of the body having a necessary function attest to this. If that is true, then it must also be true that a person who feels called to a mission that hinders, or is hindered by, the mission of their church is either on the wrong mission or at the wrong church or, in some hopefully more rare occasions, the church has the wrong mission; and it is vitally important that they find out which it is and correct it. The question is how to do that.
The first step is always going to be prayer and scripture, by the way. Going to God for wisdom and clarity, digging into the Bible for anything that may grant that wisdom and clarity, and earnestly listening for Him to speak will be necessary if you want an honest, usable answer. Every piece of advice that follows assumes you are only implementing it after spending some time in prayer and the scriptures. Also remember that this is only advice; the Bible does not give us a check list for this, and I can only share as much wisdom as I have so far.
The mission for which you are called is one which you, powered by the Holy Spirit, can do. This doesn't necessarily mean it is one you can finish, but it is certainly one you can perform for the season in which you are called to it. This simple statement gives us a few key things to look for:
Consider Moses. His gifting and skills enabled him to lead a large body of people, to judge fairly and honorably, to write the texts they would need going forward, and to face great trials. His interest in protecting his fellow children of Jacob enabled him to see their need and desire to find some freedom for them. His life experiences gave him access to Pharaoh, knowledge of the Midian desert, the skills he used leading Israel, and an unshakable faith that God would do exactly what He said He would do. His difficulty at speech meant he needed always to lean on God for his words and on his brother to deliver them, and his willingness to run when things got hairy meant he had to rely on God to be the example of strong leadership Israel needed.
Note first that this advice is only about mission compatibility. Nothing said in the sermon or here should be taken as an encouragement to leave a church over differences in style or preference. There may be times when you must leave a church for other reasons, and some of what follows may help in those situations, but this section is for a specific issue and should not be generalized.
Some initial questions:
If none of these resolve the issue (and sometimes even if they do), you need to talk to the church leadership. The exact person will vary based on your church's leadership structure and your relationships to them, but identify someone in a position to handle your questions and who you feel comfortable receiving honest answers from. Ideally, you will have been already talking to this person while analyzing your calling.
Personal mission and church mission do not have to be identical to be compatible. Our church hosts a growing food pantry which some members feel strongly called to lead or participate in; the mission statement of the church does not include that, but it does serve the church's mission goal of serving the community in a Christ-centered way that enables opportunities for us to share the gospel. Take the time to find out whether or not your calling and the church mission are actually incompatible. It is entirely possible that the church leadership will know about directions the church is going, ministry opportunities, or just detail about the mission that you don't know for one reason or another, and they can point you to a way to do what you are called to do under the umbrella of the church's mission. It is, in fact, entirely possible that what you are called to do is something that doesn't exist at the church yet because they are waiting for someone called to do it.
Seek ways to serve. Use your spiritual gifts under the guidance of the church and for the building up of the body. As much as possible, seek ways to be an active, contributing part of what your church is doing. But if all of this is not working, and it becomes apparent that you are simply not built for what the church is doing, then it may be time to prayerfully look into places where you can be active and invested.
Look, regardless of the church leadership structure where you are, the fact is that God puts leaders in His churches for a reason. The actual task of analyzing this matter should be handled primarily by the church leadership. By calling them to leadership, God has also called them to see the mission and push forward in that; and by becoming a member of a church, everyone else has submitted themselves to trust the leadership to do exactly that. There are times when questioning or even challenging the leadership is necessary, but if it is a habit or something you feel no hesitation to do, going to God about your relationship to leadership should come before your challenge is delivered.
That being said, when the leadership revisits the church mission, it will generally follow pretty similar steps to those for analyzing personal calling, with the additional understanding that church missions are generally paired with church visions; the latter being where the church is going, and the former being how it will get there. Wise church leaders will look at how the people God has called to that body can do a work that uses the available gifts, skills, and interests to engage with the church's context to participate in a work that only God can bring to fruit.
The thing about soap is that you can add almost anything to it. There's the basic stuff, the ingredients that make it be soap, but after that it's infinitely customizable. As long as what you add doesn't interfere with the process of saponification, that is, as long as your ingredients don't prevent the soap from becoming soap, almost anything will work. Not everything that can go into soap should, or would make a desirable product, but the soap will function.
There's a lot of talk about Christian purity these days, especially if you happen to be single and/or a teenager. It's frequent enough that, when I took a break from writing to pop onto twitter while writing this article (and other things), one of the most recent tweets was another Christian discussing the prevalence of purity culture talk and proposing an article on it from a very different perspective to my own.
I guess we'll see which one gets posted first.
The thing that seems to define much of this discussion is the concept of chemical purity. See, most chemicals and elements are reactive to some degree, so keeping them pure means keeping them isolated. If you let chemicals interact, you will usually end up with a reaction that turns both substances into something that is really neither of the original parts, and neither will ever be pure again.
So much of our discussion of purity sounds like that. Purity culture means keeping oneself hidden away from anything that might possibly have some corrupting influence. Purity culture views any interaction with mess as permanently and negatively changing the person. You can never be pure again, there will always be a little bit of taint in your very being, the things you've encountered will make you something less like you and a little more like them and so we have to stay removed, isolated, untarnished. After all, so many of the most public Christian voices really are highly reactive, exploding at any exposure to that which they don't recognize as the church they've always known, so it's easy to believe that we really are just fragile little vials of goodness surrounded by a world of malicious reagent.
But I would argue that this is not the sort of purity we see in scripture. God commands the priesthood in the Old Testament to be cleansed before entering His presence, not because He is afraid of being corrupted, but because contact with the true purity of His presence would destroy them if they enter while dirty. Jesus sits down and eats with tax collectors and all sorts of sinners, and freely touches lepers. In all cases, Christ remains clean when He does so, and those He contacts go away more clean than before.
The purity of God is more like the purity of soap. Yes, there's still a chemical reaction involved, but it is one that must happen in order to make things clean. Soap is not pure because it is isolated, it is pure in such a way that it can make other things pure. This means that pumice, although just a rock, becomes both clean and a cleansing agent when put into soap. It means that soap, if left in isolation, is not made more pure; rather, it is made useless.
Christ came into the world, among other things, to make us pure. He does this by bringing us into Himself, exposing us to His presence, allowing the purity that He has to cleanse us. Like the pumice, we then become agents in His purifying work. We can trust that He has made us clean, no matter what we bring to Him with us. Some of that cleansing process may completely unravel things that we held together with gunk. Some of it may not be comfortable. But we are not pure by isolation, we are pure by interaction, and this purity is meant to be spread.
Now, there is a wisdom in considering what you add to that mix. My wife would soak lavender or other things in the oil for a while before using the oil to make soap, because it added scent to the final product. It made the end result a more desirable substance. The nature of soap is such that I could have, if I was the sort, added something nasty to some oil, like sewage or something else no one would really want. The soap would still work, it would cleanse both whatever I put in and whatever it came into contact with afterward. But no one would want to use it. It would have been a terrible decision for her business (and probably our marriage), but functionally, it would still be soap. Some of the things we choose to steep ourselves in operate the same way; they don't necessarily change the purification we're going through, but they do impact what the final result will look (and smell) like.
Where this analogy really breaks down is that God is not some blind, one-shot chemical process. He can, and will, purify anything we give over to Him. He is personal and reserves the right to fiddle with the details. He may require us to not engage with something any more, but that's handled on a personal basis. Adding something we shouldn't to the mix doesn't necessarily ensure that we will never be the result He wants, as He can cleanse even that. It is when we insist on keeping what does not match with the process He has for us, when we choose to continue pursuing our own notions rather than His plans, that we begin to stink. Even this can be cleansed if we will just stop and turn it over to Him, because the cleansing comes through interaction and not through isolation.
Christian purity culture fails because it is, fundamentally, not Christian. It does not reflect the person of Christ, it does not operate from the basis of His work in us. Listen: if you are in Christ, you are being made pure. Full stop. Your sanctification is a process, that purity is still being applied to you, and you should consider what you will do to help the final result of that process be one that is pleasing to God. But we can't sit around fretting about ruining ourselves with every little mistake. We can't allow ourselves to live as though dirty things from our past (whether done by us or to us) have irreparably corrupted us. We cannot hide away in isolation from a world that desperately needs the cleansing He can provide through us. We can trust that God will take everything, all of our experiences and issues and desires and skills, and purify them for His purposes. So instead of pushing purity culture as it now exists, let us consider pointing people to the Christ who makes all things new and trust Him to do that in and through our lives everywhere we go. Especially in the big messes we can't possibly handle on our own.
Church planter and ministry student with a bad habit of questioning authority and writing too much.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation