I’m spending this week at the Virginia conference’s New Church Leadership Institute training for church planters. Don’t worry, Burke UMC (if you were worried). I’m not planning to do it for a couple of years if it turns out that it’s my calling. One of our projects for the first day has been to come up with a vision statement for our future church plant. So I wrote one and came up with a description for each component of it. I’m not completely satisfied with it. What do you think? Here it is: Becoming a people of imagination who delight in God, learn the sound of His voice, and run the race of His kingdom.
Becoming a people of imagination:
One way of describing the liberation that we receive through Jesus Christ is that we become people of imagination. Jesus rescues us from the spiritual pride, lust, and other sins that destroy imagination. Our default is that we go after cheap, tacky, shiny things instead of the infinite beauty of God which permeates all things and is the real object of our desire. When we live in the world haphazardly as children of wrath who are tossed back and forth by social influences and forces, what we call “imagination” is really a regurgitation of other peoples’ supposed creativity. It is not the light of God’s true inspiration but rather a confused refraction of God’s light like you would find in a funny house of mirrors. When we trust in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection and thus allow the Holy Spirit to crucify and resurrect us into a new creation, then we gain direct access to God’s light and our dreams become much richer and more beautiful than they could be following the limitation of the cheap and tacky values of the world.
Who delight in God:
One thing that destroys our imagination is the tyranny of performance. What I mean by performance is the pressure of living under the gaze of an imaginary critic, which is what the word “hypocrite” that Jesus uses in Matthew originally meant in Greek (hypo = under + critis = critic). Jesus says about the religious performers around him, “Everything they do is for others to see” (Mt 23:5). When we are performing for others and even for God, we cannot truly worship God because we are focused on whether our effort is being noticed. What’s interesting about this is that children up to a certain age know how to worship better than adults do. Though they are often self-centered, they aren’t self-conscious; they simply delight in the world around them. I think that’s one reason why we cannot enter the kingdom unless we receive it like a child. Whenever we gather to worship, our goal should be to delight in God, not put on a performance. This worship in spirit and truth is the foundation for everything else that we do for God and the creatures in whom He delights.
Learn the sound of His voice:
We don’t study God’s revelation to acquire knowledge or to have the correct opinions about God in abstraction. The reason we need to be intimate with the Bible is so that we know what God is saying in the world around us so that we can do what He is telling us to do. God is speaking to us all the time through events and people around us. Often He is saying something very different than the actual words or actions of the person through whom He is speaking. We can only discern the distinction between spirit and flesh in what we hear and see if we know how God talks. All that we learn through God’s word is for the purpose of showing us how to delight in God and be effective servants of our neighbors.
And run the race of the kingdom:
It’s not a race in the sense that it’s a competition. On the contrary, the race of the kingdom is to gather everyone we encounter into the authentic human community that is the body of Christ so that we can run together with each other’s support and encouragement. It’s a race in the sense that if we have had our imagination liberated by Christ, discovered our delight in God, and learned how to hear His voice in the world, we are not going to let anything get in the way of pursuing the call that God has given us. And we are going to smash through every wall that stands in the way of anyone being able to run our race with us with full dignity and liberation. So many Christians spend their whole lives stretching for the race and arguing about the stretches that other people need to be doing. We absolutely need to do the right stretches so we won’t tear tendons while we’re running God’s race. But stretching is not the end-all, be-all; the point is to run the race so that God can build His kingdom through us.