Getting Both the Vertical and Horizontal
Saturday again, and my weekly shift at the grocery store. Turned from the milk display to see my old friend Steve looking for a special brand of "free-range" eggs.
The last encounter was a couple of months ago when Hilary and I visited his home church and had a chat before service. We didn't show again. I knew that that would have him concerned.
I first made Steve's acquaintance at a small downtown Kitchener church where he held an associate pastor's role. He had ministry papers from the Four Square denomination. This little fellowship was non-denominational and charismatic.
Steve is a considerate, courteous, conscionable Christian man, almost too shy to say what's on his mind. A few summers ago, and before he remarried, Steve and I had made a commitment together to go one evening a week to main street Kitchener to hand out tracts and talk to passers-by about Jesus. Some interesting stories and encounters.
In our last talk I had shared our frustration about finding a church which was not ground down to the hurried dictatorship of the clock or of overmuch program designed to lure attendance to things in which God had little chance of arrival. I needed to see quiet times of reverent prayer and waiting, healthy testimony from the floor, home-grown messages and not all from Pastor, impromptu offerings of the gifts of the Spirit, respectful opportunities to get to know others in the pews and their searches for Christ, trials and victories. (Many of these have been addressed in the "Churches Challenged" label of this blog.) Without such, the terms "home church" and "church family" held little meaning. There was simply program, teaching and professionalism. Then, BANG out the door for another week.
Steve courteously reminded me that we are 'not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together' (Hebrews 10). He explained that in a prior church commitment made by Francis and himself there had been a good "horizontal" connection. It was a small "storefront" gathering in the meeting room of a Seniors' Centre. Easy to make friends; to have one's say during service; to arrange quickly a get-together over "pot-luck"; to linger before and after in discussion. But something about the "vertical" had been missing. (He would say no more.)
Steve is studied and can teach a good Bible lesson or lead a fitting time of praise. If the messages were low-bar offering little challenge or growth beyond the "Roman Road" he would know. If the praise sessions were just singing without honest invitation of God's arrival, he would know.
After two years the couple shifted to a larger Full Gospel assembly. Their concerns have been largely alleviated. Very healthy mixture of age, background, race and faith history in this fellowship. The "vertical" is being addressed. But recently he has had some thoughts about the "horizontal". An acquaintance suggested to them that it would probably take about two years for them to find their place. Two years! Meanwhile "sit under" the teaching and explore some of the smaller groups for more personal involvement. (Saturday night Steve and Francis were going to try a couples' Valentines event.)
I sense a consumerism in the offerings of the churches in this area. Not in Steve and Francis, of course. I guess that means that I am somewhat stuck on the vertical. I ask where is muscle being developed? Earnest spiritual muscle: 1. To invoke the presence and input of God by His Spirit. 2. To address the knotty points and seeming contradictions of our faith. (The cynics know most of these.) 3. To develop a bold prayer force for righteousness and change in our city. 4. To eliminate class consciousness with frequently opened doors and supernatural love. 5. To continue as a pillar of truth, discipline, compassion, baptism and reproductive force into the next generation. 6. To settle with the fact, once and for all, that God is sovereign...and good. 7. To do it all in the context of "the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude), and not some trendy gig.
Pretty tall order, I guess. Too tall?