Over the last week I have taken time out for some study leave to read and reflect on ministry.
The title of the book I have been reading picks up the evocative metaphor of re-wilding – ‘Re-wilding the Church’. The author has been working with congregations in Scotland both as a researcher looking into why people leave the church, and also as a missioner working to renew the mission of local congregations.
His metaphor of ‘Re-wilding the Church’ is borrowed from current trends in ecology and environmentalism. He looks at what happens in nature when invasive species of flora or fauna are removed and nature is allowed to recover, and shows how vibrantly an ecosystem bounces back recovering its bio-diversity. In a world where we are rapidly losing species and where over-farming has all but devastated the land, and where plastics and chemicals pollute and destroy, it is heart-warming to hear what some are doing to restore and clean and heal the earth. One of the things I found so astounding was the power of nature to heal itself if left to its own devices.
In using this metaphor of re-wilding the author challenges the managerial mindset that often captivates the church and asks whether the heart and life of the church has been choked by excessively complex and risk-averse institutions. He writes, ‘If the Christian way has been domesticated then it’s time to rediscover the adventure of Faith.’
Overall it’s a hopeful book which encourages us to focus on what is central to the life of the church. At the heart of the gospels is the invitation given by Jesus, ‘Follow Me’ – and with that a promise of finding a deeper sense of purpose, a greater freedom and fullness of life in relationship with God. The Way of Jesus leads us above all to love – that’s at the heart of our life – loving God and our neighbour – learning to support, to encourage and affirm, rather than to be suspicious, critical and judgemental – learning to see the best in people, to look for the face of Christ in our neighbour. None of us are perfect, and no church – not even the earliest Christian community – is perfect, and at times we need to hear words that challenge us to restore our true focus. Fundamental to our Christian faith is the knowledge that we are loved and cherished by God, and drawn into a network of compassion and justice we call the church, so that we may give expression to God’s great love for the world.
In one congregation where I served there was a lot of conflict, criticism and discontent among the leaders which filtered through the whole congregation. One of the things I chose to do was to begin our meetings in 30 minutes of reflection together on a bible passage.
Instead of getting so caught up in all the business on our agenda – all of which were important and needed our attention – we first needed to come to the well like the Samaritan woman and meet Jesus.
What happened as people shared more and more was that we came to see each other as fellow pilgrims on the journey, people we could trust.
One name given to the early Church was simply ‘People of the Way’ – the Way being Jesus. One of the things we notice about Jesus is that he doesn’t rush all over the place, he walks, he spends time with people, he heals and stretches people’s ideas about God so that they align more to the wonder, mystery and justice of God that will always be greater than we can grasp. And one of the demanding tasks, the abiding purposes of our life together, is to participate in God’s mission in the world – of reconciling, forgiving mercy. That’s an adventure all of its own and demands the best from us and in us.