Is it a line-up for a job interview? A hospital emergency waiting room? A jellyfish? A sea urchin? Or an angel fish? These models and word pictures have been proposed as ideas as how to strike a healthy balance in the church of being welcoming, being discerning, being a place of embracing brokenness and being a place of deep transformation both individually and corporately.
[the title "doing church" is not very theologically correct, as the church is not self-identified by what it is doing, but more correctly is the--to quote Dr. Clowney's book on the church--the people of the Father, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit all part of the qahal or covenant assembly. Bear with the word pictures for the moment.]
These first two come from a sermon preached by a CRCNA pastor as he was giving a wise an nuanced sermon on reaching out to the brokeness that we find within our churches.
A line-up for a job interview:
All attendees have gotten there because somehow they have shown that their qualifications--whether completely true or otherwise--merit a chance at the interview. Clothes are neat, hair is impeccable, teeth are brushed, resumes are spell-checked, and the best foot is put forward. Some are there because they have some inside track on the job due to who they know, and others are looking for a way to get ahead in the corporate world. Everyone is checking everyone else out to make sure that they are not losing a competitive edge. Polished smiles hide the insecurity of being rejected, and the lines of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" are mulled over.
A hospital emergency waiting room:
Time on the slowest moving clock in the world continually reminds all of the people in this room that they are slightly less self-important than before they came here. The skilled worker with a gash in his arm, the business owner with chest pains, the child with a broken finger, and the person rapidly rising the corporate ladder with unspeakable cramps all sit and wait their turn. They all share in the world of suffering and brokenness and all grow impatient to see the professional who can care for their specific situation. Sometimes family members also wait along with their loved ones and they too wonder how a clock could move so slow as they suffer along with their loved ones. Most try to put on a brave face, but since everyone is in the "same boat" they know it is more to encourage each other along, than to deny the existence of their ailment.
The pastor suggested that perhaps it is time for the church to move away from the model of the job interview line-up to the hospital emergency waiting room. He suggested that we would all be healthier for it. No small stretch, though.
Another model, as the need for welcome and transformation is discussed could be three descriptions of the church which parallel three different types of fish.
The jellyfish church:
Everyone is welcome under the gelatinous umbrella of the jellyfish. Come as you are, remain as you are, we have no expectations on you. We as the jellyfish church will conform ourselves to whatever needs are voiced the loudest in the day. In fact we at the jellyfish church will even provide a Jesus who will tell you everything you need to hear, be your best buddy and affirm everything you do.
The sea-urchin church:
At our church we expect everyone to look like sea urchins, talk like sea urchins, think like sea urchins and even sing like them. If you get out of line we are right prickly and you could get a spine in your foot. We will welcome you if you change to be like a sea urchin, and even the leader of our church, King Jesus will welcome you if you first change to be like one.
The angel-fish church:
At our church you are welcome. We have all come under the transforming power of the leader of our church, King Jesus and he has transformed, and is transforming each and every one of us individually and corporately. In our church we respect every word He says on His terms, as we know that He is the Greatest Wounded Surgeon Angel-fish who has ever lived. That is why we expect that he will transform you on His terms just as well. All of us have been "weak and heavy laden" with our sins of self-centeredness and self-righteousness and He is transforming all of us into the most beautiful angel fishes of His design. We no longer live for ourselves, but together we swim in a school to show off His transformative power.
Any word picture has its limits. We didn't talk about the stingers of the jellyfish. We didn't mention that all fish will die eventually, whereas the church will live forever. Hopefully that will not dissuade us from thinking about models for church.
Presently there is a tendency in many churches that have been sea-urchin-like to be riddled with guilt and say there must be a better way. At times the way suggested is to become a jellyfish church. At first flush this looks very appealing, as the prickliness of the sea urchin certainly has its drawbacks. However, the lack of backbone of the jellyfish and its innocuous but paralyzing stingers present other problems.
Thus the model of the angel-fish church is proposed. It has the welcoming aspects of the jellyfish church, but not to an extreme. It has the "skeleton" of the sea-urchin church, but not its demand for conformity. It also has a Jesus who would likely not be derived from a mushy antinomianism [i.e. no rules, no laws] nor from a rigid legalism [i.e. all rules, all laws] but from a more well-rounded Biblical picture of a Jesus who can eat with sinners, embrace children, touch lepers, tell a church in Sardis that it is dead, weep for Jerusalem, over-through tables in the temple in the same city, tell a group of people that they are a "wicked and adulterous generation," converse with social deviants, love outcasts, declare with the authority of an Absolute Monarch who is in or out of his Kingdom, and visit tax collectors at their houses.
- No one church is likely to embody only one of the characteristics above. It might be worth asking if one's church is tending towards one. Is that good? Is that not so good? Collectively, where is the CRCNA heading?
- A lot of our talk of church and how it should be "done" is about individuals. In light of the very corporate nature of the people of the Father, body of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit, have we fallen into a trap of trying to make designer churches for individuals, forgetting its corporate nature? Is it possible that we are bringing the self-centeredness of our culture right into our churches?
- Did you notice that the angel-fish church is not about the self-promotion of individuals as in the job interview line? Did you notice that the angel-fish church also has the motif of a hospital in the recognition of brokenness and the good news of the ultimate Surgeon? Is there anything missing in that model?
- It would seem that our model of church has an influence on pastoral care, discipleship and our posture to each other and to newcomers. Is this a valid observation?