Growth … it’s a funny tension in the church. As we experience seismic changes in our understanding of our Call – as the Holy Spirit leads us into places of celebration and gratitude – we get stuck in a narrow understanding of the word.
It’s really not a surprise, at least I do not think it should be. We live and breathe in a culture of more is better, of disposable technologies and lives, where worth is not rooted in the purpose of a thing or person, but in the finery that dresses it or us. In other words, growth – as consumerism – is more often than not about quantity and not quality.
As we are in this time of collective self-evaluation of less people in pews, less revenue, less this and less that – we are held hostage. I wonder, though, can we let go of this incomplete understanding of growth? Can we imagine this time as an invitation toward inward work … toward awakening … of enabling even one other person, whom we meet and touch, to awaken to the dignity they deserve as a human being, as a child of Creation? If so, how might we be liberated from chains often of our own making? How might we be freed when we help release another prisoner from his/her own chains?
This last week has been an interesting one. I have sat with Sisters and Brothers as we have recognised the abundance in our midst, which lies before us owing to the work and faith of those upon whose shoulders we stand. Siblings in the faith who have left us a legacy from a time and context that no longer exists. Siblings in the faith who likely were unaware of what their own sowing would produce. As we sat there, we asked: how do we make new things in this paradox?
In Winnipeg, my denomination has celebrated many community ministries in the city and currently there are five in which we actively live out our faith. Under the banner of 1Hope Winnipeg we touch lives – so many lives that I find it both inspiring and overwhelming. I have seen some of the numbers and these five ministries affect no less than 50 000 lives each and every year. Lives that confront entrenched homophobia, Aboriginal oppression in the form of systemic racism and marginalisation, and those who live in poverty and find themselves judged and discarded. In this recognition, my heart swells knowing we endeavour to be Light. And in the paradox of growth we now find ourselves asking, how shall we continue this work? As a missional people, how do we continue to go into the streets of a hurting world when we might be paralysed by that simple chain of more is better?
And – here’s one way I recognised a way through this week – we return to embracing God’s abundance. We leverage, use, risk the abundance that we have and declare this is worthwhile. We radically squander and the return may not be in numbers, but it will be in numbers. We awaken to the distinction that it’s not about converting everyone to our vision, it’s about modelling that just one person who awakens to the blessing they are changes the world. In other words, it’s not about numbers, but it is …
I have a friend – one of those cyber Brothers whom I have not yet met – who lives in the UK. He recently shared he has responded to a new call as a Street Pastor. In the late evening, early morning, he and others walk the streets to help those who have imbibed. As pubs and bars empty, these men and women are present where brokenness might be dressed in the façade of inebriation and addiction in the dark of urban streets and alleys. And – in his sharing – I heard a beautiful story we call the Gospel, the Good News. Without judgement, my friend sits with, listens and ensures people are safe. Though soiled in both the literal and figurative, he is present and sees another human being as someone …
Numbers and growth: there’s a paradox in there. Like those who came before us, we throw seeds into the world as Christians planting that which we cannot imagine. But if we get stuck wanting to know the outcome, the results, whether the soil’s fertile, I wonder to what extent we trust? Do we trust one another, do we trust ourselves … do we trust a God that humbled herself to suffer, bleed and die as a man named Jesus? Do we embrace a message that each life is transformable and that we are actually worthy to name ourselves as Beloved?
It’s not about numbers, dear reader … it’s about a number. The paradox is not that we have to lead, it’s that we get to choose to follow. And – in modelling such discipleship – others may very well awaken to their own intrinsic value … their own dignity … and shine so bright that others will want to know more … after all, faith’s a paradox!