Last month, when chunks of plastic began to fall off of my car, my resistance similarly crumbled, and I traded it in for a used Prius.
It’s this last one that turns out to be problematic at times. The Prius comes equipped with a nifty computer in the dashboard, which tells you instantaneously, via bar graph, how many miles-per-gallon of gasoline you are getting RIGHT THIS INSTANT. The minute you press the brake, the bar graph shoots up and you feel a sense of righteous accomplishment, but step on the gas pedal, and it shrinks back down…along with the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of you, your children’s children, and no doubt, generations of polar bears living on shrinking ice floes.
This is a MESMERIZING computer. (And this is not just me. There are websites devoted to Prius owners discussing how to maximize fuel efficiency.) During the first weeks I had my car, I found myself staring at the computer, willing that magic bar to go up. It was all I cared about. Scenery, passing cars, angry semi-trucks behind me: all less important.
So, it strikes me that there may be some issues with instantaneous feedback. At the very least, these easily quantifiable statistics of usually-complex issues can prove addictive. (I unabashedly stalk Nate Silver online during election season and this is why.) They feed our human appetite for certainty, and stability.
But in the church, they can feed into our anxiety and tunnel-vision all too easily. It’s easy to get caught up in growth as a simple math game, and worry over immediate results. Will 5 new families come if we start this new program? If we play these new songs? We’ve made all these changes, where are the new people we were promised?! We start obsessing over the bar graph of growth in our minds, rather than where we’re meant to be going as a church.
Throughout Acts, the disciples gathered a community through an honest, and unflinching proclamation of what following Jesus meant, a lived-out gospel. They weren’t growing for growth’s sake. They were picking up the cross and following–to exile, to Antioch and beyond, regardless of personal cost, focused on their communities, and most of all, on the Cross of Christ. And this way of life drew others in like a beacon.
In a renewed, Spirit-drawn church, we need to let go of our anxiety about growth for growth’s sake. I pray for a church where we can expand our vision, look wider. I hope for a church where we can find the courage to proclaim, and live out, the gospel of Christ, and set our eyes on the cross. And may God give us the faith to believe that it will be more than enough.