As I contemplate the trajectory of culture, my heart feels heavy. I don’t know whether that should ever be the case, given the God whom we serve, but I feel weighed down by the sheer size of the task. Our vision at LifeGiving to become an outward-reaching community of disciples is perhaps more counter-cultural than I ever thought.
To be community, that apparently unassuming word, now turns out to make an explosive claim upon us. It turns out to have greater opposition arrayed against it than I had thought. Despised by the modern in us with its worship of the individuated self and subverted by the postmodern in us with its talk of networks, loose associations which leave us the master of their making and then breaking, the formation of a community is more radical a faith undertaking than I had known.
And maybe we are on the front edge of this, in 21st century London with a congregation of maybe 90% under the age of 40, most previously unchurched. Maybe what I am feeling that I see in such relief is less pronounced elsewhere as yet. Or maybe such apparent clarity has come only because I am feeling so deeply this call to break free from models of church which are so much accustomed to cater to the mass of individuated selves that we perhaps have nothing prophetic left to say to the world around us?
Where will it end, this adventure which is both joy and pained confusion? Will we succumb to the networks of postmodernism, weaving in and out of others’ lives in interactions which give the impression of being communities of relationships yet which are no more than collections of individuals connecting for whatever purpose and time suits them? Or could we become a prophetic community, a church with more concrete forms than just the chance convergences of fluidity? Could we really become more than a network which is here today and gone tomorrow; could we become a sedimentation of lives lived in love together, a genuine ‘space’ for walking out the intricacies of discipleship, a space for inviting outsiders in so that they can see the life of Christ in his body?
It is to this, you see; it is to this that he has called LifeGiving. It is this for which he is breaking my heart – and everything in me seeks to respond. It is here that my interests as academic and practitioner collide.
And it is a big but. When I watch the trajectory of culture, I feel dwarfed. I can’t even change one tiny church in this respect. The slide is inexorable, so it seems. Even other Christians don’t always seem to share the dream. And it makes me wonder: have I got this wrong? Have I read the times wrongly? Have I misheard his heart?
It makes me question too how a little voice like mine could make a difference. I can’t even turn a church; how will I see a nation turned? This is too big for me and I am tempted to turn away. I cannot hold the tension of what is now and the not-yet which I have seen and which so captivates my heart. It spills over into tears and then into a desire to run hard in the other direction where I can pretend that I never saw the not-yet, that not-yet the pursuit of which has so snatched my peace.
And at this I smile – for a friend has recently told me that I need to find a way to make peace with my prophetic gift and perspective before it cripples me; and I wonder whether the energy with which I feel this tension, an intensity so deeply-felt that it seems it could break my heart beyond repair, is what this challenge means.
Yet I know that I will not turn away. Not in the end. I know it because no matter how hopeless I feel about seeing a movement from the now to this dreamed not-yet, I cannot turn away. I cannot take my eyes off what I have seen, his church all-glorious, all that he ever wanted. And so I will walk on, fuelling this passion in the academic pursuit of this question, immersing my heart repeatedly as a practitioner in the life of the local church.
Perhaps, that way, the now will one day melt into the not-yet and the tension will be no more.