I hope you don't mind that I took a few days' break after the end of the Acts study (here's a link to the last day, with the previous days linked at the bottom). I suppose one has earned a break after 40,000+ words. I will say, having now marched through Acts, that I am more excited than ever about where the church is going. Despite all the talk about death tsunamis and declining membership, the church has a real opportunity to regain some of its lost character. You don't become the dominant culture without losing a little bit of your soul, after all.
I'm especially intrigued by the chance to regain a sense of community in the church, in the face of an increasing cultural focus on individuality. Even avowed atheists are seeing the importance of Christian community (while missing the importance of actual, you know, religion), and there is an increasing acknowledgement within evangelical circles that the central question of the Gospel is not "how can I be saved?" but "Who is Jesus?"
I would add that the subsequent questions of "Who are we?" and "Who are we in relation to Jesus?" and "Who are we in relation to one another?" are important Gospel questions, too. I think it a sign of the times that it is much easier for me to answer, "Who am I?" than it is for me to answer "Who are we?"
This question is one reason why I am so grateful to be a United Methodist. As if the UMC's grace-centered theology and two-fold understanding of holiness were not enough, United Methodists are a people who take seriously the question of "Who are we?"
This is messy business, figuring out who we are. We gripe and complain about the difficulty of making decisions collectively. We get frustrated at our democratic processes. We long for a top-down hierarchy. Anything, we seem to say, would be clearer and less convoluted than community.
But this is who we are. We are people who take seriously the call to be community. We are in relationship with one another as individuals, we are in relationship with one another as individual congregations, we are in relationship as annual conferences. It is maddening. But it is community.
Someone asked me this week how North Georgia's annual conference went. We spent three days this past week at the Classic Center in Athens attending to the business of being the church. I said that the conference had gone very well, and then I said something that surprised even me. I said that the conference had been maddening, fun, life-giving, exhausting, frustrating, inspirational annual conference. But that is how family works, right? We are all these things, at the same time. We are more than the sum of our parts, for it is Love that knits us together.