Thursday, October 05, 2006

Our Journey Together

You may notice that in today’s pew sheet we are identifying new members at West Houston as those who are “joining us on our journey” instead of as those who have “placed membership.” This is a deliberate effort to replace rather sterile, impersonal wording with vibrant and personal language. It also reflects an attempt to connect our mission as a congregation with robust Biblical theology.

One of the most prominent metaphors in the Bible for the life of faith is that of a journey. God calls Abraham out of his homeland and his service of tribal gods to journey to a new place where God will establish him as the father of a new people. Later, when God delivers these people from bondage in Egypt and they enter into a covenant relationship with him, they embark on a journey though the wilderness to a Promised Land. The journey metaphor continues with Jesus as he walks from city to city to carry out his mission and continually invites people to “follow” him, which some do figuratively (transferring their allegiance to him) and some also do literally (leaving job, home and family). In fact, Mark’s gospel occasionally utilizes the double entendre of “road” or “way” to convey Jesus’ spiritual mission as well as his traveling lifestyle. The book of Acts refers to the Jesus movement itself as “the Way.” Christ’s disciples are “followers” who journey with Jesus while learning the way of life he models and instructs for them.

Listen, I don’t have a problem with “membership.” And to be sure, Paul talks in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 about the “members” of the body, referring to the physical body and its limbs and digits as a metaphor for the church body. So I’m not saying it is without Biblical precedent or meaning. It’s just that the common usage connotes static affiliation rather than dynamic formation. I’m a member of a fitness club, a neighborhood association, and an online forum. I use my gym as a means to stay in shape (using that expression loosely). It’s a tool. But does that really capture what the church is about? As Reggie McNeal puts it in his book, “The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church,” many churches in North America are doing the equivalent of selling membership packages rather than inviting people to join Jesus in a way of life (a formational journey) that opens us up to God’s transforming presence. Or, as he puts it,
“Evangelism is (too often) about churching the unchurched, not connecting people to Jesus.” And he points out that in doing this the church can’t possibly deliver on its implied promise: “Many church members feel they have been sold a bill of goods. They were promised that if they would be a good church member, if they would discover their gifts, or join a small group, sign up for a church ministry, give to the building program, learn to clap in worship, or attend this or that, they would experience a full and meaningful life.” But as helpful and good as all these may be, unless they connect us to Jesus and enlist us in his mission in the world they are all just part of a circular effort: support the life of the church so the church can enlist other “members” to support the life of the church so the church can enlist other “members” to…

I am thrilled to be on a spiritual and missional journey with West Houston, a journey in which we seek God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and share Jesus with our community. Like all journeys, there will be peaks and valleys, victories and hardships, successes and failures, progress and plateau. But the point is that we’re going somewhere in Christ. Together.


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