What Challenge Looks Like
I have problems with the creeds. And not just that they must appear to outsiders as suggesting Christians need to believe six impossible things before breakfast. My issue is not so much what is in them, as what is left out.
Jesus came from God, was born as a man, suffered death on a cross and was resurrected. Is that all that is important about Jesus? Everything that is said about him in the Nicene Creed is transactional. How about focussing on the way he lived? Especially since he calls us not to believe in him but to follow his example.
There is a point in all the gospels which claim to be chronological where Jesus shifts from invitation to challenge. If…. then. And in chapter 3 of the gospel that is almost certainly not chronological (John), Nicodemus believed but it wasn’t enough. If we are to be leaders who are brave enough to challenge others to do anything, we ourselves must be examples for them to follow.
Which means we should be seen to struggle to forgive others. To value all people equally. To give freely of ourselves within healthy boundaries. To apologise where we have got things wrong. And the rest.
The letter to James makes exactly the same point with added clanging cymbals. What good does it do anyone for us to claim we believe something we are not putting into practice? Boing, Crash. Hypocrite alarm!
A healthy community helps people to flourish. And sometimes that means loving and caring about people enough to challenge them to change.
I still recall the Sunday morning when I stood up to preach, and I heard a little voice asking me: “Why?”. Why did I think it was helpful to load something fresh on my hearers when I’d done nothing to help them work out the implications of what I’d taught them last week. And the week before. And the week before that.
In the weeks that followed I began to devise a new monthly pattern. It took a long time to explain to everyone and get approval, and it also involved beginning a number of LifeGroups, working out how we would include children and inviting people to join one that was close to where they lived. And the biggest shock of all was I proposed shutting the church building once a month. A challenge too far for some, but it was revolutionary:
Week 1: Preach a sermon on a theme Jesus indicated was central
Week 2: LifeGroups would explore “what if…” questions on that theme
Week 3: Explore the same theme in an “all age” setting
Week 4: An open-mic morning to tell stories about our adventures
What it illustrated to me more than anything else was that we have devised a pattern of doing church that excludes pretty much all the elements that Jesus used to educate his disciples. And we have been doing it for so long that people hold on to practices that don’t work as tenaciously as they do the creeds.
Few of us enjoy being challenged unless we have decided we want to flourish and grow. So this should be the basis of church membership.