No More Business as Usual

In recent years, we have had a number of conversations about what it means to be missional, about how to join what God is already doing in our community, and how Christ’s Church needs to change to participate more fully in the activity of the Holy Spirit in our world today.

Last week, a similar message came from Pope Francis, who called for big changes in the Roman Catholic Church. He said that he knows it will be a messy business, but he said, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Having a fortress mentality to protect ourselves from the evil world around us, will not help us minister to all the hurting people who need help. Assuming that “if we build it, they will come”, does not provide the centrifugal force to go and be sent as missionaries to those who will not come to us.

Officially known in Latin as the “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), the Pope’s 85-page document is the first official papal document written entirely by Francis. In it, he makes a bold call for the church to rethink even long-held traditions. “In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives.”

The Pope here is recognizing that while our past can lay a very positive, formative foundation from which to minister from, it can also devolve into an unhelpful hindrance that prevents us from joining in the movement of the Spirit in our times. In Acts 9, Peter has a dream where he refuses to eat some animals that the Jewish people had called unclean, even though the voice of God clearly told him to eat them. He was baffled and confused and didn’t know how to make sense of this vision. Then, some men appeared who asked to escort him to the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Peter had to break some Hebrew traditions to enter the home of a Gentile, but when he did, Cornelius and the members of his household became believers in Jesus! There is so much we can learn from the past, but we don’t want it to prevent us from learning new lessons from God in the present. The Bible describes God as a God Who surprises us. The more we venture outside of our church buildings and into the world, the more we may see these wonderful surprises from God.

Pope Francis also said he expects other parts of the church to change and he called on Catholics to be unafraid of trying new things. He said, “My hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security.” He said that the church’s centralization, where all roads lead to Rome, and the “we’ve always done it this way” type of thinking have hindered Catholics’ ability to minister to local people in far-flung places. “I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style, and methods of evangelization in their respective communities,” the Pope said.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, author, and editor-at-large at America Magazine said, “The document’s main message is that Catholics should be unafraid of new ways of proclaiming the Gospel and new ways of thinking about the church.” The Pope is not alone in his thinking. He joins a chorus of many others who have been saying similar things.

There is much in our church tradition that I believe we will continue to carry with us into the future. But, in those places where our traditions are holding us back, it is time to unload them off our backs, lay them down at the side of the road, and continue our journey without them. Not all of our current habits and practices were meant to be eternal. They served us well for a time. And we are so grateful for that. But, we should not be surprised when the milk carton comes with a “use by” date on it. Let us not be afraid to discard what we no longer need and what God does not require. The Holy Spirit is leading us into some exciting new ways to participate in the mission of Christ. For those who have ears to hear, let them hear. For those who have eyes to see, let them see.

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One Response to “No More Business as Usual”

  1. Keith Tanis Says:

    Thanks, Clark! Pope Francis is speaking “missional language” better than we are! The Seattle Times reported that Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the Vatican Almoner said:

    “The Holy Father told me at the beginning, ‘You can sell your desk.You don’t need it.You need to get out of the Vatican. Don’t wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor.'”

    I think pastors (and E.P.s) should sell their desks!

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