...is the church.
But not for the reasons you might think.
Churches are the messy miraculous in rapid motion. They are communities of the corrected, and often painfully communities of correctors, sensing the movement of the Holy Spirit in their own halting sort of way.
Churches - whether you are focused on the "gathered" part or the "scattered" part or perhaps both - represent the ambassadors of King Jesus in a world coronating everything in sight to try and make sense of restlessness, boredom, suffering and selfishness.
Sometimes we do it well. Sometimes we draw prodigals back to the ranch and they realize that life with dad is the greatest thing they could ever engage in. Life with dad - life on the ranch - that's discipleship.
The church then comes to a wicked crossroads, and this is where the danger begins. Reading Gordon Smith's book Spiritual Direction I came across this line and was reminded of red flags that I had forgotten to notice:
Indeed, one of the deep commitments of each pastor should be that a parishioner grows increasingly in her or his own capacity to know God, respond to the call of Christ on her or his life and walk in the Spirit, the very Spirit that dwells in each one. (70)
Did you catch it?
Take a deep breath. Go find a mirror or a partner and say this phrase to yourself/your partner:
You are responsible for your own formation.
It is on you.
It is not your pastor, group leader, house church members, parachurch leader, on and on...
It is you.
Granted, there are relationships and fellowships that play a huge role in our formation but ultimately even those relationships require us to dive in. To give ourselves to them.
The prodigal decided to return home. The disciples decided to follow Jesus. He didn't stand around and teach at them, He called them to follow Him and then challenged them to do what they didn't think they could. Grace met them in their response, definitely, but still they responded.
Even the master teacher couldn't lead them where they weren't willing to go.
The worshiping community is responsible for speaking, living, and shaping faith together. Creating environments where faith can grow. The balance rests in the hands of people with lives, families, and jobs where ikons of Christ are needed.
The community that is the church is responsible for environments. Individuals are called to respond.
Danger comes when we as individuals - or those who lead churches and gatherings - become convinced that the weight of formation falls completely on the quality and veracity of what happens when we're together.
For church leaders, this becomes job security.
For individuals, it can become codependency.
In either case, we miss the radical call to follow Jesus & become like Him in the unique particulars of the life we live out daily.
Let me say simply - if we are expecting our faith to be fully maintained by our gatherings, eventually the gas will run out on our faith. People fail. Songs & environments loose their sizzle, their pizzazz. Sermons will fail to inspire, liturgy will point to the frailty of the priest rather than the glory of God, and we will grow drowsy and distracted and end up thinking about everything but where we are and who we're hearing about.
What never fails is cultivating a high view of Jesus, that He's worth being like, and chasing it through brick walls if necessary.
What never fails is humbling ourselves to share what we've gained - bread, wisdom, or presence - with others above keeping it to ourselves.
What never fails is kindling a holy longing, deep in the belly of our belly's belly, to know Jesus Christ more today than yesterday.
We have that path ahead of us. To be formed is to respond, ourselves and as a gang of the redeemed, and take responsibility for our formation.
So who is responsible for your formation today? In other words, what is the one thing that could happen today that would derail your faith? How does that relate to where you are on a Sunday morning?