10. How can we translate our quest into action?
One of God’s core qualities is love (1 John 4:8, 16). He shares that love with us and wants us to participate in it. In order to do so, we must learn to love like he does. In fact, he says that we are to be known, not by our beliefs, but by our love (John 13:34-35)—a pretty amazing statement! The only way we can do this is to get to know him (through Jesus), not just know about him. Learning to love is like learning to dance (or play an instrument or sport). However we (in Western churches over the past few centuries) have focused more on learning many facts about God. You need look no further than to the importance we place on doctrines and theology to see that this is true. The weekly church service has been made out to be the central core of the Christian life, and in Protestant services, the focus is the sermon, which is either like a college lecture or motivational speech. Sure, in either case people are generally encouraged to do something. It’s not uncommon either to—intentionally or unintentionally—make people feel guilty for not “doing better”.
But I argue that the Christian life isn’t about following rules, where it’s simply a matter of hearing a rule and applying it. “Wash your hands before you eat. Drive on the right side of the road. Go to church every Sunday.” These are examples of basic principle-applications. We treat Christianity as if this is all it’s about. The priest/pastor/preacher/minister, a.k.a. the spiritual expert, instructs us on what we are supposed to do, then we go home and apply it. It’s no wonder we feel so guilty when we aren’t perfect; it’s communicated that it’s just a basic matter of choice, so if we’re not following all these principles perfectly, we must just be lousy people.
(On a side note, I’ve noticed that’s it’s popular for some pastors to say “I’m just like you—I struggle with this too”, however I don’t think people really believe them. Everyone has their own opinions and beliefs; people only listen to pastors because they on some level think them to be spiritual experts. Especially if we think Christianity is just about applying principles, we expect that pastors should be applying them all of the time. That’s why it’s considered so controversial when a pastor is found to have sinned in some way. People will think, “If he made this mistake, why should I listen to what he has to say?”)
What if the Christian life isn’t a matter of just applying some knowledge or principals, but is more like learning to dance? A person doesn’t learn to dance by reading a book or listening to a lecture. You don’t acquire the ability to dance simply by knowing what the steps are supposed to be. Dancing is something you must practice in order to get good at, just like you must practice at an instrument in order to play, or practice at a sport in order to participate. In most all of these cases you have a teacher or coach who has more experience and skill, who helps to guide and instruct you along the way as they observe your progress. Love is like this. We don’t get good at loving people simply by knowing about love—we must practice it. Christian leaders then aren’t so much perfect (no one is) as they are (hopefully) a bit more skilled through experience and can help others along the way. In fact, they should be more like the captain of the team in the sense that though they are a leader, they are still part of the team. Jesus is the one who is the coach or the director, the one calling the plays and directing the course to take.
This is another reason why I believe that the best model for church is a smaller, simpler, organic one. Our churches are designed more with the college lecture paradigm: you have a large room where many people can listen to one person speak. A smaller church (under thirty) can look more like a studio or team. At a big church service, it’s easy to slip in and slip out without ever having to really interact with anyone, which is like going to practice without ever practicing. In a smaller setting however, you are put in a position where you are forced to love other people, or it is painfully evident when you don’t, because the team needs you! It’s in this setting that we’re met to learn to love other people.
So how do we “translate our quest into action?” First becoming a part of a community of followers of Christ. Begin to learn to love and be loved. Then, as you grow in this setting, ways to love and serve others both inside and outside of your group will become apparent.