fifty million people, facing backwards.
OK, here are the thoughts I referenced on Sunday....
I am convinced that a vast majority of western churches are anchored in the past when they should be anchored in the future. Whether conservative and traditional or contemporary and spontaneous, they usually are what they are because of something they used to be. Churches honor and replay deep traditions of 'the way we've always done it' or throw them aside with the idea "we're never going to do THAT...". Either way, the church becomes history-centric. It is defined - or redefined - by what was rather than what will be. I have met some of the most creative, exciting, well meaning young pastors who - despite their insistance that they are doing something new - are simply operating out of reactionary slavery to what we grew up with.
This is reflected especially in how we think about revival and renewal. Both words conjure up the revisiting of a point in history. "If only we had meetings like those of the healing revivals...like those of the XYZ movement"....fill in your own point of reference. Sometimes we forget that those movements, while being powerful, also contained elements that we would never want to revisit. You want early 1900's Pentecostalism? Great. Are you going to take the racism that came along with it? You want first century Christianity? Good luck explaining the immorality of some of the churches. In reality, I'm convinced that what we call revival and renewal - and in our terms give nod to the past - are really imperfect glimpses of the perfection of the kingdom. They are snippets of the life to come, not the life gone by. it goes to figure that if God breaks into our time and space, He'd come from the point on the timeline of what He is preparing to do, not where He's been. God visits from the future, not the past.
Our friend Kevin Rains has a great name for his blog - The Kedge / anchoring forward. There is a nautical practice of launching an anchor out in the direction that you want to go and holding on for dear life - even pulling the rope, moving closer to that goal despite the ravages of the sea. That's the kind of faith I want - one anchored forward and straining in anticipation.
If a church body can learn to anchor forward - put it's hope in what will be rather than reacting to what was - it accomplishes some cool things.
It speaks to destiny and breeds anticipation. If God really has a plan for His people, then surely He yearns to reveal it....and we can be among those He shares it with.
It honors the past without bowing to it. I am grateful for the grand traditions of the church, but I'm not ready to give the historical church a free pass. History must be examined and reflected accurately.
It structures a world view that really is global and timeless. We are horribly narrow minded in our view of church. If all the books you're reading have to do with how to get your church past the 200 barrier (or 500 barrier, or 1000 barrier...there's a book for you out there!), then my guess is your view of the church is pretty geographically small and narrow in time as well. Anchoring forward has a sense of the great believing rivers of history merging into one massive waterway. It's not about your little whirlpool.
It levels the playing field. Anchoring forward allows for the use of experience, but beyond a certain point, we're all on new ground. None of us have gone this way before. Young or old, we're at the same place in what God is doing now.
If you're still with me (I think a vast majority are probably gone by now and we can talk amongst ourselves), a church like this has a few unique characteristics.
A prophetic voice. At some point, someone's got to say "I believe this is what God is saying....". The church's massive failure following Sept 11, 2001 simply reinforces how history-centered we are. Most churches looked back to WW2 models on how to comfort people. Very few looked forward with a sense of what God might be saying through all of it.
A guileless people Face it - do church facing forward and the ball is going to hit you in the face once in a while. In those times, it's good to be with people with an extraordinary measure of grace.
A spiritual mobility I'm not talking about theological wishy washyness, but a sense of nomadicy among the people. We are going somewhere together....it may be tiring and a little hectic, but thank God we're moving....
So, my guess is the fifty million people in church on Sunday AM were, for the most part, facing backwards. Turn around folks. The road is the other way.