I made these comments on Nolan Donald’s wonderful post “Wrestling with True Church” and thought I would share them here as well.
I’ve started doing some writing of my reflections upon being ordained an Elder in the UMC as of a couple weeks ago. One of the topics I’m thinking through is the messy and glorious reality that is the local congregation.
Several months back, I was asked by a friend from seminary days who’s in a ministry other than the pastorate how life was as a pastor. With much affection for the local congregation, I responded, “You know, when you graduate seminary, you’re ready to be sent out as a visionary leader to preach and teach the word, leading a group of counter-cultural Jesus-followers to advance the Kingdom of God, and they send you to a local church of all places!” Please understand that I believe the local church is precisely where the Church is too and I love the local church. And part of loving something is being able to feel and voice the glorious and the messy, the thrilling and the frustrating. So while I was mowing the yard the other day (a great time to do some theological thinking), it dawned on me to apply what we learned in seminary about eschatology and the Kingdom, “already and not yet,” to the maturity in discipleship of individual members and the missional self-understanding and ministry of congregations. Initially, I’m finding some freedom in this because it shifts my self-understanding as the pastoral leader to help me align who am I called and sent here to be with the reality of where I actually am.
Like the Kingdom itself is already inaugurated in the life & ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension & exaltation of Jesus, there is some “kingdom ministry” already going on within the church. It may not be as prevalent or have the emphasis that I’d like, but it is present. Similarly, there is an “already” quality to personal discipleship and spiritual maturity. Many are awakened at some level, many have some knowledge of the doctrines of the faith and some biblical stories. Some even “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Not all may have come to an “evangelical conversion,” but there is movement, groundwork, inklings, etc–an “already,” an “inauguration” of sorts of a relationship with God through Christ.
But like God’s kingdom reign is not yet consummated on earth as evidenced by the expansive effects of sin in the world (beyond only corruption of the individual’s will and other faculties), so too, many congregations are far from a robust missional self-understanding (as are many of us pastors, to be fair, particularly in North America). And many members are far from “Christian Perfection” or “holiness of heart and life” as Wesley and some classical spiritual writers refered to a deep level of Christian spiritual maturity.
So, there you have the “already and not yet” understanding of Kingdom eschatology applied in a rough fashion to the local church. Any other thoughts out there?