Ok so I get some flak on Facebook about various things, and being a spiky Northern Irishman I can understand that. But this past week our church was paid the ultimate compliment by someone who was answering some questions about what kind of church we were.
The person in question has been coming to our church for most of 2016, and here’s their conclusion:
I like that. We keep Jesus at the forefront without being weird.
And let me say, if you’re a church planter or pastor, there is a direct correlation between the two parts of that observation. My considered conclusion is that it’s not only that we keep Jesus at the forefront without being weird, but it’s because we keep Jesus at the forefront that keeps us from being weird.
Why do I say that? Because let’s face it, we’re weird! We’re weird in all sorts of broken, misdirected and wrongly-focussed ways. By ourselves we will hive off down all sorts of rabbit warrens that tick various neurotic/crushed dreams/aspirational/perhaps-we-could-try-it-this-way boxes.
We’re weird. Okay, maybe you’re not weird in your eyes, but that’s simply your eyes. And don’t wander away from the screen into the lounge and ask “Hey honey, do you think I’m weird?” Families are weird too. Just live with another one that is not your own long enough and you’ll see.
But Jesus? Never weird. Imposing. Daunting. Attractive. Compelling. Challenging. Loving. Powerful. Grace-filled. Kind. Strong. Truthful. Yep. All of those things.
But not weird. And it’s when we focus on the only non-weird person who ever lived, that somehow we become a safer bunch of people to be around. Somehow we become the kind of church that can reflect some of those characteristics of Jesus to others.
But here’s another thing to be careful of. It’s not simply that we can be either weird without Jesus, or not weird with him. It’s a case too that when we decide that we can add something to Jesus (something we think is vitally important, but is, in fact, often just weird) that we become weird in a completely different way; a completely different dangerous, error-ridden religious way that we become blind to.
Here are some examples I prepared earlier:
1.That church that is into Jesus and the KJV only That’s weird.
2.That church that is in to Jesus and you must speak in tongues. That’s weird.
3. That church that is in to Jesus and a perspective way of doing church that’s just that bit better than the people who are less into the gospel than they are. That’s weird.
4. That church that is in to Jesus and a particular and exclusive commitment to certain beliefs about origins and endings to the exclusion (and persecution) of all others. That’s weird.
5. That church that is in to Jesus and a particular and exclusive commitment to certain political processes/agendas/affiliations. That’s weird.
6. That church that is in to Jesus and …fill in the blank. That’s weird.
Okay, maybe I am being provocative. Maybe I deserve all those abusive private Facebook messages. But if those churches are not weird yet, they are well on their way to being weird soon.
How do I justify that claim? Simply this. Whenever you add anything to Jesus, then you are at risk not simply adding to their importance and centrality, but taking away from Jesus’ importance and centrality. Whatever you add to Jesus is what ends up mattering to you. Just ask the Mormons.
So we take away Jesus from the forefront and we end up supplanting him; putting that weird thing at the forefront, and creating an idol out of it. And I wish that that were so weird an occurrence, such a rarity, that none of you recognised that from past, or present experiences, but I doubt it’s that rare.
Now no church sets out to be weird, they just arrive there over time. That’s the way we weird humans work. No cat lady sets out to be a cat lady, they just buy one, and then another one comes along, but that’s never enough, and…. You get the picture.
We weird humans just love over-correcting the steering wheel and running ourselves off into the gravel, don’t we? It doesn’t seem possible that just by keeping Jesus at the forefront of our churches that He could, in and of himself, steer his people individually and corporately, away from weirdness. Nope, we’ve got to do that job for him. The result? Even more weirdness.
So if the already perfect portrait of Jesus looks a like this (ok, it’s the Mona Lisa, but you get the point):
Then the worst thing we can do is to weird it out by saying “That’s not a real smile, how about we tidy things up for you Jesus, and give you a proper smile, one that people will remember, one that makes a difference.”, and we end up with this:
And that’s just plain weird.
So remember, keep Jesus, and Jesus alone, at the forefront of your church; it’s the guarantee you won’t be weird.