The Ebb and Flow of the Church

Ebb-_-FlowAs I looked out at the channel, it was like seeing a lunar landscape. What had been a lake of water between two islands the night before was now a rolling landscape of mud vacated by the tide. In a number of hours the ocean would once again flow back to cover the barren seafloor, enabling boats to again transit between the islands.

September is always a hopeful month for the church. We look forward to perhaps some new people showing up in worship or some old ones returning.

However, it sometimes feels like the church is becoming more a barren landscape as people ebb away from it, pulled by the ocean of multiple possibilities, especially in the fall. Parents sign their children up for endless activities. More and more people are working on Sundays or seeing this day as the one opportunity to sleep in or get things done. Some leave their churches to attend other church bodies as consumers, without commitment or responsibility.

For hundreds of years people flowed towards the church. “Build it and they will come” and people did. North American society was built around the church.

The church did flourish and prosper up until about the middle of the last century when the social structures surrounding the church began to disconnect and the church was set adrift. Or was it that people simply ebbed away from a place that no longer held significance for them?

I recently talked with one of those people who had ebbed away. At one time their family had been very active in the life of our local congregation. You name it and they were involved. Then the pastor left and life tragedies hit their family and no one from the congregation said anything to them as they ebbed away.

I asked her who they were closest to at the church and she could not name anyone. The failure had been obviously mutual. Even though everyone was busy, the church had failed to establish relationship and so had this family.

It takes five to seven significant relationships to keep people connected. Anything less and people ebb away.

Over hundreds of years the church worked at building an institution, but largely failed to create a community which is the very essence of what the biblical church is to be. By not creating a community the Church made it easy for people to ebb away towards a society of growing individualism. By not creating a community the church also had nothing to offer people who were searching for community among many other things.

Most of the church today continues to be unable to offer the very thing it has been called to be: a kingdom community. Instead, we provide places for individuals to get serviced and of course, to be busy.

The vision of God’s kingdom is one of people flowing towards a common God who promises to address the common needs of humanity. Christian community is about coming together to share what we have in common: our brokenness, our need for healing, our need to be part of something far deeper and greater than ourselves within this brief blip we call life.

People will continue to ebb away from the church until those of us still here begin to see and live a new re-imagined, Spirit-born vision of church as community.

What does a biblical kingdom community centered on a relationship with God and with others look like? I believe at its heart is Christ’s summary of the law: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.’

This is not an easy path. To love in biblical terms, is to by God’s grace choose to do that which is not natural: taking significant time and resources to be with God, with God’s people, in service to God’s world.

The ebb is away from this, but the flow of God’s Spirit and Christ’s kingdom is toward this. The ebb will always leave life desolate because of sin, death and the power of the devil. The flow of God’s kingdom, however, can bring the fullness of life.

– Pastor Tim