Last week, two of our Doctor of Ministry cohorts attended a missional conference at one of the mega-churches way out in the Kansas City suburbs.
This church would appear to be the type to which we all aspire – big, sophisticated, and influential. You walk into a two-story, skylit reception area (It probably has a cool name not in my vocabulary yet). There’s a sleek, modern welcome center with a huge blue sign overhead that says, “WELCOME CENTER.” And on the counter are, not brochures, but computers and bowls of high quality chocolate candy. The church has thousands of members and one of those sanctuaries with theatre seating, lighting, sound and stage. And, did I mention, at the back of the lobby, big screen TVs and a coffee shop? It is a world away from the small town church I love and grew up in.
Yet despite all the cutting edge accoutrements and signs of success, there was homogenity of pastors on the church website, the music tended toward the “Jesus is my boyfriend” variety and the entry space looked very much like the way into a mall or your average classy hotel lobby. Is this what it means to find new ways to live in faith and trust?
Interestingly, many of the missional conference speakers said no. In fact, they suggested, even sharply prophesied, that homogeneous, hierarchical church structures, mega-church dimensions, superstar pastors and “Jesus is my boyfriend” music, belong in the bone yard Ezekiel described (37:1-6), the place for dry bones.
As I looked around, I realized that our not-so-little seminary group of 27, including Korean-Americans, African-Americans and Euro-Americans, ordained women, young and less-young, was way ahead of most of the churches represented at the conference in living out the abundant life, the Missio Dei, the good news of God, we were there to learn about.
And yet, we also know the reality of dry bones. That is why we go to a conference like this and work so hard to find new ways to be a seminary. The church struggles to find its purpose and direction in these days of massive cultural shifting and diminishing influence of Christianity. But Ezekiel did not lose sight of the reality that God was at work no matter how dire, confusing, or disorienting the circumstances. In fact, he believed that God would bring life out of the most dessicated things and times.
He pointed disoriented ones to these words of God: “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. … You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God.”
“Watch this.” For the next two weeks, we have the opportunity not just to watch but to welcome 15 D.Min. students and professors from the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon, along with a host of volunteers from churches who will prepare meals, drive vans, and open homes and churches for them.
This will be a busy, tiring, chaotic, and confusing time. It will also be a time to learn from our MIT friends what it takes to follow Christ in a hostile, oppressive culture and to discover how God moves in places hard for us to imagine. We will study, talk, worship and play together. It’s just the kind of stew God uses to bring new life.
If the testimony of Ezekiel and students from Myanmar is true – dry bones are not the end of the story. “Watch this!”
“The vocation of the “pastor-theologian” is one that appeals deeply to my personal sense of calling. I have never felt particularly gifted as a “shepherd pastor,” or a “CEO pastor,” but have always had an abiding spiritual curiosity that has led me to seek God both intellectually and in community. Working on a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree at Central gave me the valuable freedom to explore theology and biblical studies more deeply than I could have imagined. I not only learned how to conduct research in my field of New Testament studies, but I learned how to better form my own questions in search of answers. Central helped me to realize my own vision of making biblical scholarship accessible to the local parish, a vision that I hope to carry well into my future.”