It’s relieved me to hear from at least one that my postings have not been “airing dirty laundry“. Initially I feared that sharing this journey could seem critical or judgmental of people who have questioned the process. A number of murmurings of “we just don’t know what’s going on/we need a bigger picture/why haven’t we heard a whole lot from up front?” has been uttered. Some of the tone has been said somewhat disrespectfully, as though the leadership has handled this incorrectly. I, too, wondered why we didn’t gather the Next Steps group to share in front of the congregation on a Sunday morning. But then I realized if I criticized, I, too, would be disrespectful. So instead I’ve decided to share/question/teach/inform on my own turf, which happens to be this little electronic notepad, with the hopes of edification and not tearing down.
In Permission Granted the authors note that vision for a church only lasts for so long, about five to seven years. Before that time is up, a new vision needs to be being discerned so as to not leave the church aimless. And as that vision is acted upon, the church will undergo significant transition and will need to be instructed on how to abide in that transition (like childbirth: the pain doesn’t go away, but at least education helps cope, abide in the pain, and hope for the coming ending).
The authors also focus on Christ’s illustrations of the church – that of a building and that of a field. A building is a structure: rigid, inflexible, unchanging. These are the values we hold as the body of Christ. A field is an environment: fluid, flexible, changing. These are the manifestations of our values as we respond to our current context.
Thinking about fields and hearing that vision only lasts for so long, I had an ‘ah ha!’ moment: these things have something in common – sabbath! In the Old Testament God commanded that the fields not be planted every seven years. Now environmentally we know this is so that the field doesn’t become totally tapped of nutrients, so that it has time to rest, replenish, and produce well: farmers employ this method in crop rotation.
But God also commanded the Sabbath for another reason: as a check to see if the Israelites were abiding in Him rather than their own power. It’s easy to harvest crops and thank God when you are plucking the bounty; it’s another thing to wait for God to provide. The Israelites were to trust God that He would provide enough crops during the sixth year not only to provide for the sixth year, but also the seventh . . . and the eighth (because during that year, the crops would be growing). It was a way of laying everything down and relying on God. But I imagine it was also a time to regroup, to dream, to change old habits, to plan for new things that couldn’t be thought of during the repetition of the previous year.
I called my dad to ask him what the Israelites did during their Sabbath year. “I imagine they rested!” he said. Actually, they never took a Sabbath year, he informed me: this is why they were exiled to Babylon for seventh years – they owed God seventy Sabbaths. So instead of getting to rest every seven years, they instead were enslaved for seventy years: makes one really think about resting when God commands it, eh?
So . . . if the church is like a field . . . and fields need to rest every seven years . . . and vision only lasts for five to seven years . . . doesn’t it seem like the church should take some sort of Sabbath every seven years? . . .
I put forth this question to the Next Steps group one Sunday. I tried to hold it back because it just didn’t seem the direction we were moving. I sat silently and antsy for an hour and a half during one meeting, a meeting that our clerk and our pastor happened to both be absent for (so it was a bit of a shock for them when they got the minutes :D). But then someone asked, “Aj, what are you thinking?” I asked them if they really wanted to know. They should’ve known better than to say “yes”. 🙂
The floodgates poured forth. I’m part of a program that connects with young moms, but we can’t find folks to fill the steering team for next year and attendance has been down: could we lay it down? Typical church fashion would say, “No! This is a good thing! Force people into the holes! Fill the need!” But maybe the need has been met, and God’s calling these resources to a new thing. When do we have time to discern that? Perhaps during a Sabbath?
What would it look like for a church to Sabbath for a year? Would that mean that the pastor stops delivering a message on Sunday mornings and that other forms of worship are used? Would that mean that Sunday schools would be laid down and community would meet in other ways? What would happen if programs were laid down for a year – programs that help teens and old people and folks in the church and folks out of the church?
What would we do for the year? Would we hole up and be antisocial? Or would we find new and creative ways to meet – perhaps outside the walls of the church?
What would happen to the folks who rely on the programs and services NFC provides? Would their needs go unmet? . . . Or are we relying on programs and not God to meet peoples’ needs?
Note: I am a verbal processor. I was not saying that these things should happen: I was simply posing the question to think about “what would it be like *if* we did these things?” And so we left the meeting with more questions than answers, most unsettledness than direction. Because that’s so like God.