This is part 2 of a series. See the Introduction.
As I mentioned in the previous blog, I’m reading The Faith of Leap by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. Alan has a way of inventing words to describe new ways of thinking about things, so I looked up liminality – and it really is a word! It is a sensory threshold, an intermediate state or condition, or being in-between. To me it is a perfect word to describe the state of the church right now. We are in an intermediate condition between what worked in the past and what will work for the future. I see bold expressions of innovation across the country. I see fear and trembling, clinging on for dear life to what is comfortable. And I see the “deer in the headlights” look in many of our eyes, knowing we need to do something but not sure what it should be. Liminality is a threshold place – standing on the edge, debating what to do. It is scary and it feels uncomfortable, and it needs…… remember that handful of dust that Indiana Jones scatters on the leap of faith walk in The Last Crusade? It needs that.
As a Church Vitality Strategist whose job description is to help make more vital churches, I think it is my role to be like that handful of dust – providing just enough assurance and clarity so that congregations can take the necessary steps to become more vital. And we do need to make the first steps. We cannot stay in the liminal place. It is unhealthy to stand on the edge wringing our hands and debating what to do. It is unhealthy to continue to be fearful when faced with difficult decisions and, by the way, fear is not a faithful response.
Embracing the risk is the only faithful way to move forward through liminality. If I remember Indiana Jones’ experience on that leap of faith walk, he had to step first, then scatter the dust so that he had clarity. In the introduction to The Faith of Leap, the authors write: “We say that Christology (our primary theology) determines Missiology (our purpose and function), which in turn determines Ecclesiology (the forms and expressions of the church.) We are the missional people of God, and we have a job to accomplish that only we, as Jesus’ people, can do. The church doesn’t have an agenda; it is the agenda. The church doesn’t have a missional strategy; it is the missional strategy. Therefore, to be the church as we are meant to be is of utmost missional importance in our day.” Hirsch defines being missional as being sent, embracing God’s work in the world.
So, many of our congregations are in a liminal place – scared, unsure of their future, and aware that crisis is coming. Frost and Hirsch would say that if you are unsure of your Ecclesiology and your Missiology (form and purpose), then you have to go back to Christology for your answer. It really is all about Jesus. Is your church’s purpose to learn about Jesus or to learn to live like Jesus? Are you building a relationship with Jesus so that you can share that relationship with others or are you of the “Jesus and me” mentality that keeps that relationship just for yourself? Are you willing to grapple with the notion that God, through Jesus, has a purpose for your congregation to build God’s Kingdom in your community? These are the questions that will help make the leap of faith possible. It is the answering of these questions that makes the faith of leap possible.