I love my church. I know, I know… it’s not really my church. I serve Jesus’ church and I’m well aware of the fact that pastor’s would be wise to remember that they do not own the church’s they serve, nor do the church’s we serve need us in order to “make it.”
Yet Trinity Christian Fellowship is my church. And I love her. She’s mine in the sense that she’s the community that has allowed me to learn and grow and fail and fall down and get up and learn how to teach and lead and serve and try new things, including really dumb ideas, and it is the family of Jesus’ followers that has taught me about the gospel and the kingdom and challenged me to pursue being more like Jesus and seeking for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
In that regards, she’s my church, while being totally and completely Jesus’ church.
Yesterday, after our church’s Sunday morning worship gathering, I was sitting in my living room thinking about some of the people I’ve come to really love and consider to be close friends. I chalk this up to the fact that I’m doing a series on friendship, so maybe this is all just me being emotional. But it struck me just how deeply personal ecclesiology is and really should be.
I love ecclesiology. I am hoping to end up with a PhD in ecclesiology. I constantly find myself drawn to reading on, thinking about, engaging with, discussing, and writing about the Church. It’s the playground where pneumatology and missiology seem to beckon me, the space where spiritual formation tends to rest and relax. And I’m hopeful that the tradition and family of churches that I find myself in, the Vineyard, will continue to develop and articulate its own ecclesiology in a way that serves to connect us to the Missio Dei, as well as provide a framework for understanding our ontology.
It is really important to think about ecclesiology through a biblical-theological lens that is shaped by rigorous scholarly reflection. For my part, developing ecclesiological convictions should be done with a healthy awareness of Augustine, Rahner, Calvin, Moltmann, Küng, Newbigin, Barth, and soooooo many others.
Yet I can’t really think about ecclesiology without thinking about the personal aspect of being a part of and in a local church. In fact, my theological methodology reveals from the onset that any and all ecclesiological reflection that I develop is significantly shaped by the reality of being a part of a local church. To write ecclesiology void of this personal connection is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
Receiving the Personal Touch of Ecclesiology
Pastoring people is hard work. No one ever told me that I would experience betrayal or have people accuse me of things that I’ve never done or make assumptions about my intentions and motives that couldn’t be further from the truth. I could go on about the challenges but I’m not complaining. I love being a pastor. But it is hard work.
And I can’t tell you how many times there have been a few people that a part of the church family that step in to provide just the right encouragement at just the right time. I recall once being so discouraged and ready to give up that I actually wrote a resignation letter. And as I sat in my office trying to figure out what business would hire a pastor-theologian type of person, the feelings of defeat and discouragement just washed over me to the point of being even more discouraged than I already was… and then I received an email from someone telling me how they were so thankful for me and my family and for the sacrifices we made for the church. The email went on and on and on and on! Well, the resignation never made it beyond my laptop.
And then there was the time I was sitting in a hotel in Africa, after being completely undone by the reality of seeing poverty and oppression on a scale I couldn’t seem to shake. I found myself weeping and broken, unable to even think about the next few days of ministry. And at that very moment, I received an email from someone in my church letting me know they were praying for me and they imagined that seeing the children suffering was very hard and that they were hurting with me, even though we were thousands of miles apart.
And how could I ever forget the numerous times where Dawn and I have left our home in order to head to the hospital so that we could welcome one of our children into the world… only to return home to find our lawn mowed or drive-way plowed, not to mention meals and cards and gifts. I mean, for our last child born, our church threw us a huge baby-shower and we received too many clothes to mention, a new crib, toys, and enough diapers to last nearly six months.
The church is radically personal. And I am the better for it.
Expressing the Personal Touch of Ecclesiology
Not only does a local church provide love in ways that are received, it causes people, especially pastors, to express ideas and feelings that seem, well, weird.
Like when you know a person in the church is struggling through something but you also know they aren’t ready to talk about it or deal with it and all you can do is think about them and pray for them… and think some more… and pray some more… and think about it some more. I know it’s not healthy to be consumed by worry, but it’s hard not to think about the people you love and care for.
Or there are the times when, as a happens in life, tragedy strikes and the people you are called to love experience loss. How can you not jump in with both feet? It seems almost illegal and sinful not to show up at the hospital or the funeral home.
The church is radically personal. And I am the better for it. Hopefully others have been blessed by my attempts to express that!
The Radical and Powerful Realty of Ecclesiology’s Personal Dynamic
So I know me some systematic theology. I love me some biblical theology. I love me some exegesis. I love me some pneumatological empowered missiology. I love all things biblical and theological and I love the topic of ecclesiology. But I can’t even begin to think of ecclesiology as a theological category that is divorced from the local church, the community of God’s kingdom. I can’t even fathom writing ecclesiology that doesn’t reflect the positives or challenge the negatives of our churches.
Maybe that’s crazy and some scholars will balk at such a personal and experiential understanding to the doctrine of the Church. For me, this is just koinonia. You know… how it is supposed to be. The personal dynamic of ecclesiology causes me to see the subject, the Church, as being a radical and powerful reality. It’s not just theory, it’s personal.
What say you?