Today I will be participating in the second half of the Missional Learning Track at the Disciples General Assembly. I should note that four years ago, I participated in a Missional Learning Track with Alan Roxburgh. That we are doing this again, suggests that we’re slow learners. The Track is linked to the Disciples launching of the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. This effort could help lead to transformation in the church or it might simply be another effort that we “do” and then forget.
All that said, I was very pleased with day one, and something our keynoter, Brian McLaren, said is worth pondering. He told us the story of going to Yellowstone National Park and there he learned about the importance of fire. He learned that “fire is part of the natural ecosystem,” and fire must occur for new life to emerge. The nutrients of the forest are gathered up and stored in the trees, and when fire comes these nutrients are released. At some point after the fire, what was blackened and destroyed by the fire, is replaced by new verdant life. That is, “fire is like a redistribution of wealth!”
What is occurring right now is the coming of the forest fire, burning away all of the dead wood and chaff so that new life can emerge. In this context he reminded us that the gospel isn’t about going to heaven but transforming lives. That is, the gospel isn’t an “evacuation plan, it’s a transformation plan.”
But, when we think of fire we need to remember that with fire comes change and loss, and as Brian noted, we really don’t fear change as much as we fear loss. As pastor of a long-standing, once prominent congregation that is seeking to make its way to a new place – a missional place – I know about this fear. It’s present in conversations. It’s present in furniture. We moved from our place on Detroit’s “Piety Row” to the suburbs three decades ago because the church could no longer afford the upkeep on the building, but the loss was keenly felt, and it hindered change. What is true of my congregation is true of hundreds, maybe thousands of congregations across the land.
But as dark as things may seem, the heart of the fire probably hasn’t yet hit. Many of our churches still contain a smaller, but still committed groups of older members. They serve, they give, they’re present – but at some point in the future, perhaps sooner than we’re hoping, they will be gone. What then?
But the good news is that after the fire there is new life. But are we ready to go through the narrow passage, the dark times, to get there?