A woman stood up at the microphone in her local church. She said, “When this church began, we prayed to the Lord and asked God’s direction. And in my opinion, anyway, the Lord has never answered. In the meantime we have continued to gather together. We’ve worshipped together. Cared for one another. Helped one another through the ups and downs. Loved each other, ate together, prayed together, studied the Bible together and did life together.”
Luke, in Acts, describes the early church: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe[e] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day,attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42 – 47
I was there when that woman stood up at the microphone, declared God’s silence and then described God’s presence through communal practices. I was struck by the beauty of her description of their life together as a church. I was saddened by the disconnect between the answer she expected from God (and never received – whatever that was) and the clear answer I witnessed in the form of a community of believers. So I wondered about the disconnect. She gave a description which sounded a lot like the way Luke described the first gathering of followers of the Way so many years ago. Yet, she didn’t understand it as God’s plan and purpose for the church – or as an answer to her prayer at all.
I can only guess that it has something to do with a lack of numerical growth in the community. They were the same size today as they were when they started almost a decade ago. The only way I could come up with any sense that God’s was absent was by looking through the lens of modern, American, church growth models. You know, the kind that define success by bigger budgets, more people, new buildings. On my most generous day, I look at seeker-sensitive methods of church growth as contextually appropriate moves to draw baby-boomers back to church. On my most analytical day, I see them as methods that are deeply freighted with assumptions about what success is and how to get there that have paralyzed more churches than they have empowered.