Shepherds and Sheep Dogs 2

Early Christians

I remember vividly my first months of discerning the call of Christianity as an adult; I was haunted by the notion of martyrdom, and whether I would have the “salt” to allow myself to submit to physical pain for the sake of the faith.  A good friend, in a rather off hand comment, said one day, ” . . . it has always seemed to me that God gives what is need to those from whom He is asking great things . . .” 

I hope that is indeed the case.  Through the years I have found that although Jesus consistently encourages a mature respect for the potential experience of becoming a martyr; there are many other invitations that Jesus offers about how to live a meaningful life following him.  While the individual believer is called to remain in a position of readiness to accept the martyr’s path, there is another life to be lived with other Christians in the community of faith called the “Church.”

Essentially – being a Christian is about more than simply preparing to die.

Another friend, one of our senior lay leaders, offers some observations about church membership – perhaps a little less dramatic that the possibility of martyrdom.  He writes,

“Being a member of our parish means that you are committing to embark on a spiritual journey which includes attending worship, participating in the life of the Church, and its ministries and support the church with your time and resources.”

I agree with him – Christianity is not a solo performance or the personal responsibility of the individual; it always involves relationships with other Christians, and non-Christians.

My friend asks the question – “What should my fellow parishoners expect of me?”  And I so appreciate his direct approach:

a. You attend services to support them in their spiritual journey.

b. You will participate in the daily life and ministry of the parish.

c. You will support the parish financially.

He also asks what the clergy should expect of a parishoner.  

“First and foremost your committment and continuation of your journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Secondly, and really an integral part of the first, is participation in the worship and daily life and ministries of the parish.”

The reality is that we live, as I believe all ages and cultures have so lived, in an age of living the life of the better-offer.  “I will be there {at church} unless I get a better offer . .”

Ours is an age of better offers; and to be honest I am not sure that I would not be taking some of those offers if I were not sworn by vows to walk in the path of discipleship and priesthood.  Over my 25 years of ministry I find that clergy can begin to feel lonely in the committment that they have made to God; epsecially if they do not have the advantage of friends and colleagues in the ordained ministry nearby.

I have been blessed to work with clergy in the chuches I have served over the years, which is a tremendous antidote to the existential “swamp” that can enter a minister’s soul when a congregation says with its lips, “the life of the church is important to me . . .” but their actions prove otherwise.  

I believe that the clergy would ultimately like to share with their members what has been their own experience of God’s power and love in their own lives; and how God has moved and transformed their own lives.  Less than regular participation simply means that folks won’t have as many chances to share in what has been the locus of the minister’s own experience of God.

I like some of my friends thoughts about the nature of the Church:

“People see the church as an institution and not the people that make up that institution.  People see churches as service providers, when in reality, they are opportunities to provide services to others.  The Church is not like any other institution or business that we have in modern society.  Membership in a church is not the end, it is the means . . . it is not the spiritual journey, it is a method to deepen and support and further your personal journey of faith.  Unlike American Express where membership has its prividleges . . . in a church membership has its obligations.”

 

Enter this door
As if the floor
Within were gold,
And every wall
of jewels all
of wealth untold;
As if a choir
in robes of fire
were singing here;
Nor shout, nor rush,
But hush…. 
For God is here.

Engraved on the doors
of some old churches
of the Church of England

 
If the Church of England were to fail altogether yet it would be found in my parish.

John Keble
Vicar of Hursley and
Father of the Oxford Movement

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