At the heart of it, ‘Christian’ simply means little Christ. In their own volatile and dangerous time, the first followers of Jesus sought to look and act and love like Jesus did. To manifest the body of Christ, imperfectly, by walking the way of Jesus.
Today, too, the church is called to look and act like Jesus, even as the world around us is changing and uncertain. That’s what we promise at baptism. That baptismal Covenant is a blueprint for the Christian life, no matter the circumstances. For our congregations, the basics are simple:
- A church that looks and acts like Jesus is one where we are seeking God together, in discipleship.
- A church that looks and acts like Jesus is one that seeks reconciliation with our neighbors and with the planet together, through justice.
- A church that looks and acts like Jesus is one that is willing to change for the sake of the Gospel, to innovate new ways of walking this ancient path.
- A church that looks and acts like Jesus is one that is alive with love for each other.
As we navigate the late stages (please, God, let these be the late stages of the pandemic), we have difficult choices to make. There’s a whole new landscape in front of us now – a whole new set of possibilities. And some things that were ‘normal’ before the pandemic might look, at this distance, like a heavy burden to pick back up.
This moment is a window, a relatively short window, in which we have a great deal of choice about what to embrace and what to let go of.
What things felt crucial before March 2020, that we have been forced to do without, that we can let go of? What things felt impossible before March 2020, that we’ve been forced to try on, that have offered us a glimpse of the reign of God? What of our worship practices, ways of gathering, habits of communicating, will mark who we become next as a faith community?
There is no one set of right answers that would fit all of our faith communities. But we do believe there is clarity in the way of Jesus, clarity about what makes a gathered group of disciples vital in their faith. We’ve posted a list of key practices that we believe have stood the test of time for faithful Christian communities of all sizes and contexts.
This wisdom leans on Jesus – Jesus, who leaned on the ancient Hebrew stories and prophets in his vision of the kingdom of God. This wisdom leans on the Baptismal Covenant, that crucial foundation of our faith, that points to every single one of us, called to be ministers of the Gospel. This wisdom leans on sources of wisdom that you might not have thought of:
The legacy of American theologians Fannie Lou Hamer, Howard Thurman, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mark Yaconelli, Dorothy Bass. Before them, the monastic community wisdom inspired by Francis, Benedict, Hildegard, Clare, and others. The communities of faithful Christian practice around the world for two thousand years who practice testimony – a practice that many of us swimming in the waters of white dominant culture are unfamiliar with.
The secular wisdom of appreciative inquiry and asset-based community development. The Luther Seminary school of missional theology. The leadership and teaching of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Wisdom from the team ministry movement that has brought back into the church the crucial muscle memory of what it feels like when all of the baptized are working in concert together.
What we hope to offer in this set of sixteen commitments is a vision of what it looks like for a congregation to thrive by being committed to discipleship, justice, innovation, and their own vital practice of love. None of it requires a congregation to have a big building, a big budget, or a paid staff. All of it is more about process than product: how we be together, rather than what we accomplish. We hope this vision gives you a good dose of clarity: what it means to be church is pretty simple. Not easy, but simple.
If this appeals – whether because you’re looking at post-COVID choices and want some company to figure out your next steps, or because this has opened up some imaginative space for your dreams about your faith community, we hope you’ll join us for the BishopX Forum on Thursday, December 9, to dive deeper into those sixteen practices and what freedom they might offer you to say yes to the Holy Spirit’s next invitation.
And, check out the invitation from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to become a church that looks, acts, and loves like Jesus.