Ive got to admit, the last two football seasons have been a nightmare in our house. We have 2 1/2 Middlesbrough fans (I’m the 1/2), two seasons of hovering around the play off places all season, or being nearly at the top, every game is important, every game is tense, every game means something, every game support is required and either I or members of my family shout and scream at the radio, or at the ground in the hope that it will make a difference.
In those moments, like the concept of playing the game itself, we lose ourselves and focus on the trials and tribulations of a game, and partner with others, especially at the ground, to encourage, shout or scream. Theres not much like the atmosphere at a football ground when its on the way up, where games mean something, and there is collective hope.
As a contrast, I wonder not whether collective hope has been lost in church, but the individual church’s collective desire to be part of something that changes the world, and give people who participate the same opportunity to be part of that change. If the result of church that supports the individual (or a youth ministry that does the same) is that its only about personal spiritual growth, then its a personal choice to attend, and a personal opinion as to whether this has happened. In a culture where, from schools, even to hospitals, or even the obvious examples of goods and technology can be shaped around personal choice, has the church adopted the clothing of society to stay relevant, or should it act in a different way?
Healy (2001) suggests that Church should be practical and prophetic, acting in the space of the world to speak to it, and act in a practical way to alleviate its pain and suffering. For Vanhoozer the church is to be dramatic in the world being the theatre of the gospel, being good news in Gods hope to be redeeming world. (2005;416)
Without an understanding of the purpose of the church in the context of the ongoing story of God Drama of redemption- what purposes does the church seek to fulfil? Maybe valid ones for its own organisations sake – but what of the costliness of the cross, and the ongoing acts of the practical and prophetic in the world.
What if, as Samwise says to Frodo in ‘The Two Towers’ – “there is good to be fought for” – but not in the battle kind of way, but that there might be a cause, a purpose and collective hope for practising and performing church. I’ve discussed here (search ‘rehearsal’ above) about the nature of the church, in its actions being akin to a rehearsal, how actions occur on Sundays as foretastes of the nature of the mission it performs, and embeds in behaviours.
Yet what of the mission that it performs, a mission that is both practical and prophetic, that stands over the rhetoric and damage of say government policies (and doesnt just take advantage of them), a cause, an alternative, a belief in peoples humanity, in collective goodness and flourishing- life to and in all its fullness for the whole of society. That might be the dream, but as church this is what we might be fighting for, acting towards and if we do, gathering those who want to believe this too.
The place of being practical and prophetic in the world might just be the call to the church that saves the church, and transforms the world as a result. If church gathered to perform goodness in the world, there would be a collective reason for being part of that change, its a play we all involve ourselves in. Alot of the rest of the stuff of church is just things, some of which will pass away, but love, hope and faith will remain, and all of these will change communities.