That's just one factor that has me thinking about the church and how our cultures and structures support or detract from our mission. Another stimulus was this great piece from prester_scott discussing, among other things, what hypocrisy in the church is and isn't. I'm sure the current Ted Haggard evangelical scandal (just in time for elections—how handy!) will open the church to yet another dose of armchair quarterbacking; regrettably, much of this will come from places of contempt or schadenfreude than from one rooted in Christ's love for her. That said, it's very good to have how we're living out the church's mission be an open question. We know from Scripture that Jesus has prayed for the unity in love of all believers, that God has established structures for authority and service within the church, and that we are commanded to love one another and serve the world. Beyond that, with the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit, we're figuring it out as we go.
One arising question is, "What are we doing with our time?" God's given us the dignity of making that choice, and perhaps it would be easier (though not better) if He just gave us a calendar with all the blanks already filled in for us. It's not that easy, and in that choice we face competing priorities and our own finitude. Non-negotiables for the Christian include prayer, time in Scripture, fellowship with other believers, worship, service, work, and rest. But how much time for each? Are churches filling the schedules of their congregations without respect for their limits? Are we encouraging people to learn to say no and respecting that, or are we just trying to get them to say yes until they can't handle any more? Is there a deeper purpose to fellowship than just the good vibes of hanging out with people who believe as we do about Christ? Do we further narrow our interactions to be only with those who agree with us on a number of other doctrinal, cultural, economic, and political criteria, and how might this be limiting God's use of us in the ongoing ministry of Christ, in making the invisible Kingdom visible?
Secondly, prester_scott's entry spurs me to ask, "Are the church's systems and norms structured to support her mission?" I can think of dozens of subsets of that question, but right now I'm wondering about size and intimacy. Consider the standard interactions at a Sunday worship service: welcomes, smiles, small talk, etc. Some of what's noted as an expectation of sinlessness may well be a function of size—in a larger, less personal environment, the question of "How are you?" is difficult to answer in any deep sense. We aren't necessarily intentionally hiding ourselves so much as working within the norms and limitations of public large-group interaction. I'm not convinced this is wholly a bad thing—it's reasonable to do so, and I'm often taken aback when someone tries to pull me into a private interaction in a public venue. And just because there isn't space for an intimate interaction to take place in a public venue doesn't mean there isn't room for it in the church as a whole. Even with this public aspect acknowledged, however, I think excessive congregational size can be a hindrance to true community.
As with time, it seems as if it'd be easier for us if God just told us how large individual congregations were supposed to be. Instead, His Body has great adaptability as He continues His ministry. Possessing both dignity and finitude calls for both freedom and restraint. We need both public and intimate spaces. Our churches should be welcoming to those who seek God, or even to those who just seek love and don't know where else to turn. Though one might lament the surface-y nature of Sunday morning interactions, let's be honest—a lobby full of people emotionally vomiting on each other isn't very welcoming for most newcomers. Like the temple before it, the church needs varying kinds of spaces for its purposes, some public and some intimate. As in our relationship with God, people should be invited ever deeper in their relationships within the church.
On-demand intimacy is as perverse as on-demand sex. Forced intimacy is as grotesque as forced sex. It is a precious gift to be given and received, not an entitlement. But we need it—we're designed to need it, and not just the positive strokes that tickle our sensibilities. We also need intimacy so that God can use others to call bullshit on us, so that we can confess, repent, and receive forgiveness. Show me anyone who's fallen to temptation and I can show you someone who's kept part of his/her life hidden. "Transparency" is one of the current church-y buzzwords I hate because it's often used in a way that shows little awareness of or respect for healthy boundaries. Yet in this case I'll give the concept some ground—we must allow others who have the Spirit of our God to see inside us, and we're responsible for making good choices about who and when. Intentional small groups within a congregation can be a good launching pad for such intimacy, with even greater intimacy developing within individual relationships.
Whew. That was a lot more than I thought I was going to write—developing a personal philosophy of ministry takes a great deal of mental mapping and connecting of many, many dots. But it matters. It's worth doing.