Your church may have plenty of parking space (unlike mine).
It may be big enough to see from space (once again, unlike mine).
But does it have any white space?
Tell you what I mean. We live in a culture in which we increasingly no longer have white space. Every nook and cranny of our social, cultural, relational, online lives has to be filled with colour, or better still, glorious technicolour. White space is even referred to as “negative space”, so it is any wonder we shy away from it?
We fear boredom. We fear silence. We fear having a day on the weekend where we might simply stay in the house and not do a lot except potter. Or even a week of that. We see white space and we fill it with colour. Or so we think. Often we fill it with lots of colours, that in the end run grey together, leaving us listless. Dissatisfied.
In short we fear white space.
Church is not immune from this tendency to fear white space. And I am not simply saying this in the sense that we need to hold a meditative candle-lit Gregorian chanting kind of event. In fact that would defeat the purpose!
“Sir, there’s a lack of white space in our church service!”
“Really Smithers? Quick, rustle up a contemplative program to create some white space. And make sure it’s got a full roster.”
Evangelical pastors, taut theology and all, preach grace and rest in Christ. Often (at least I hope so). But practice it? That’s an altogether different matter. Many pastors are driven beyond their ability to maintain it. And guess what? That self justifying tendency leaks. It leaks into what they want to achieve in church for God. Or more to the point, what you need to achieve in church for God, because we’re all in this together, right?
Wrong. The rest of you have, by and large, full time jobs, or full time study loads, or full time something else. Not a lot of white space there.
Yet many a pastoral team, if they see white space, rush to fill it. if there’s any white space in a person’s life, a churches calendar, a city’s Christian conference agenda for the year, we jump on it.
The reason? To stop that lovely white space being filled by the idol of family or shopping or leisure or sport or…whatever. It’s for their own good after all.
If we scrapped all of the extra-curricular church activities for one year, a mere 365 days out of roughly 726 656 days of church history (give or take a few), and if all we did as a Christian community was turn up to church, and have some meals and prayer together, before getting on with living and serving in the workaday world, would our faith be weaker, our besetting sins be stronger, our lives be less holy, than if all those things were added in? I think not.
(Before answering that question for your people, answer it for yourself first, after all you’re the one who’s done more of that stuff than anyone else in your church in any given year).
But, hey we won’t let go of all that stuff, will we? Not that it’s all bad. But our reflex is this: Better to fill in that white space with something good, otherwise our people will fill it in with all sorts of other stuff that this driven culture pushes on to them and expects of them. Stuff that won’t last. Stuff like collecting shells on the beach (let the reader understand).
The problem of course is that we can end up sanctifying our own form of drivenness. And so we soldier on in ministry with Codral (or more likely anti-depressants), masking the putrifying drivenness with a holy odour. And that’s what makes it so pernicious. That’s what makes less pastors retire as pastors.
Simply put, we don’t trust the God of the gospel enough to give people white space when it comes to how we do church. Or we don’t feel self-justified enough if our own pastoral weeks don’t look busy enough.
We don’t trust God enough that our people won’t resort to idleness instead of rest. But why blame them for that if they do? Surely as pastors and shepherds of the sheep that’s our fault?
“He makes me lie down in green pastures.” has become “Hey let’s mow this pasture and turn it into something useful for ministry!”
Surely if we’ve done what we purport to do, bring them to Jesus, then they won’t fall into idleness, they’ll step into rest. And when they understand their rest in Christ because you’ve taught it in what you say, and they’ve caught it from what you do, then they will find that their strength is renewed – not to do your job, but to do theirs.
Oh, here’s some more white space for you. Why don’t you stare at it for a while before you go back to Facebook.