Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Where are all the saints?

Okay, so I have lots of favorite authors. It happens when you read a lot. But another one of my favorites is Gordon MacDonald. Gordon first said something in my life when I was still in college and David Kemerling gave me a copy of "Ordering Your Private World." But it was when I read "Rebuilding Your Broken World" after he was caught in an immoral situation that I really started to like Gordon's writing. He writes periodically for Leadership, which I read on the Chrstianity Today website. Today he started with this quote:

"A walloping great congregation is fine and fun, but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre." Martin Thornton

I don't know who Martin Thornton is or where Gordon got this quote, but it's spot on. Gordon then writes briefly, but in his own generalization, edgy sarcastic way (his words) this thought: the modern Evangelical church sucks at mentoring mature Christians.

What does it mean to be mature? Gordon rightly acknowledges that a definition doesn't just leap out at you. But you know it when you see it. Here's his thoughts...

"The marks of maturity? Self-sustaining in spiritual devotions. Wise in human relationships. Humble and serving. Comfortable and functional in the everyday world where people of faith can be in short supply. Substantial in conversation; prudent in acquisition; respectful in conflict; faithful in commitments."

The only thing I would add to this list would be something about an appropriately serious but playful joy about life.

Gordon is also right when he diagnoses a main part of the problem as our propensity for programming everything. Since a certain kind of evangelism (the kind where you convince someone that they are going to hell without Jesus if they die tonight; true enough, but hardly the whole gospel message) can be programmed somewhat, and since "infant-level discipleship" can be programmed somewhat, plus worship, preaching, etc. all of which seemingly can be programmed, maybe we've just forgotten that maturity only happens when life is placed alongside life, and the apprentice learns from the master. It only happens in real situations, not in sanitized sanctuaries or Bible studies. It happens when people who are apprentices of Jesus spend time with other people. They succeed together and fail together and learn together and serve together and eat together and cry together and drink together and worship together and smoke together and play golf together and wait for their kids to get out of football practice together and have dessert together and lose weight together...okay, I'm sure you get the point.

It's together in all its messiness.

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