This is the Church’s Burning Bush

“God said, ‘Kneel and pray. You are in a holy place, on holy ground. I’ve seen the agony of my people in Egypt. I’ve heard their groans. I’ve come to help them. So get yourself ready;

I’m sending you back to Egypt.’ (Acts 7:33, 34)

I’m sending you back

I’m sending you back?!  Why did that phrase catch my attention?

I checked out the story in Exodus 3 – same thing! Verse 10: “It’s time for you to go back: I’m sending you.”

It’s time for you to go back.

Which raises the question: Is it time for the church to go back?

It’s Time

Time is an interesting concept.  In theology and in the Greek language there are two words for, two kinds of, time.

In our world, there is only one kind of time… it’s ‘from one thing to the next’ time. This is sequential, quantitative, chronological time. In greek this is “chronos.” It’s time that deceives us into imagining that we can actually control it, enter it into our smartphones or tablets and deal with it, on our own terms.

“Kairos” time, the time that hit Moses like a burning bush, by contrast, is qualitative time.  It’s time that marks out, and interrupts; it’s the right time, the opportune time. Kairos is a time in between, a moment of undetermined time which changes everything. It is the time in which something extraordinary and life changing happens. Wedding days, the loss of a loved one or a 9/11 are all kairos.  Mordecai declared to Esther ‘for such a time as this.’ We sing (or used to) seize the day.  In John 17 Jesus says, the hour has come—it’s time.

A defining moment

We don’t really have an English equivalent for this word, this kind of time except to call it a ‘defining moment’.  God in a bush talking to Moses was a defining moment. For him, it happened at age 80, so, you’re never too old. 

Moses was blindsided with a kairos moment. It changed everything for him. God interrupted his daily routines, his retirement plans, his chronos timeline with a directive: “Go back. I am sending you.”

What if God is interrupting the church’s routines, plans and timelines with a directive?

Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s suggested course of action. He must have asked “Why would he want to go back?” Moses was in a place and time that for 40 years had provided him with a safe, secure predictable environment in the sheltered community of his father-in-law, Jethro.   Moses had…

…Comfort
…Security
…Stability
…Familiarity
…Control
…Predictability
…A Routine

I am sending you back.”  Going back would mean being confronted with

…Uncomfortable situations
…Risk
…Change
…Unconvention
…The Unknown
…Unpredictability
…Danger
…Challenge

I wonder which list generally appeals to us more?

Why me?

It was a kairos moment for Moses. This moment would change the trajectory of his life. Not surprisingly, Moses hesitated, “This was nuts, craziness… go back to Egypt…set people free…. BUT GOD,” I imagine him saying. “…I am comfortable where I am—it’s not thrilling but it’s safe….I can’t do something like that. Really, I just can’t… you know me. I’m just me… me, are you sure you want me?”

“YES! and your sister and your brother and I AM with you.”

“BUT God”, Moses responds. It’s a little word.  Some say it’s a bad word.  My kids used to turn it into a chorus.  But, but, but, but, Moooooooooooooom…

“Why me?”  

“Because I AM with you.  And I AM sending YOU. I am sending you- the church, my people BACK!” It’s a word for us too.  “Go back.  I AM sending you.”

Why would the church want to go back?

Why would we want to give up…. comfort, security, stability, familiarity, control, predictability …for the uncomfortable, risky, unconventional, unpredictable adventure of being sent to be a blessing?

That’s why those words jumped out at me.  They fit with what God has been stirring up in my heart and mind—unsettling me and my understanding of what it means to be church… and not just me… many, many others across the continent and beyond, in every form of Christian community … Alan Roxburgh calls it ‘the Great Unraveling.’ Phyllis Tickle refers to it as “the Great Emergence.”

What is God up to?

Traditional churches are declining, denominations are losing their voice in society, cathedrals are closing. More and more people seem to be turned off by the institutional church which once held prominence and loyalty.

Even churches that have been committed to doing everything possible to attract newcomers, to make seekers feel welcome and  embraced, are beginning to notice that no matter how welcoming their churches are, ‘they’ aren’t coming. ‘They’ being the people across the street who don’t know Jesus and His love.  What is God up to?

Go back? Really?

What might God be saying to us as He stops us in our Christendom tracks? Can the message really be “Go back”?  

Things fall apart

Maybe we’ve made it all too complicated. In our attempts to get people to come to church we design the perfect programs, the best worship services, the craziest, biggest youth events, the most fun children’s ministries. We try to ensure we have the right doctrines, correct views, proper procedures.

Meanwhile, the world has changed. We are no longer a Christian society attracted to Christianity as a religion and organization; as a service provider and an authority.

Maybe it all started falling apart when Constantine declared his empire to be Christian. Christianity became a state religion aligned with the principalities and powers that be. Layers began to pile up. We needed structures, staff and statements, policies, programs and pulpits. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, per se.

The Gospel Virus

In the New Testament, the church began as dynamic multiplying cells. Discipling and growing happened by BEING “communitas,” a community in or on mission. When homes filled up they sent out some to fill up other homes and so on.

The Church, in many parts of Southeast Asia, is like this still today. Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world (but not in North America). Thousands come to Christ daily in these nations. Houses fill up and multiply. The Gospel spreads like a virus.

Today, it seems that Constantine’s influence is beginning to unravel, resulting in an post-Christendom and post-modern world. What had once been multiplying cells spreading a virus was enveloped in political status and control. The church became a system and an institution. It built hierarchies and denominations with clergy, bucks, buildings and butts (to please) or if you’d rather pews, programs and paid staff!

Those layers kept building up so much so that it has become difficult for the people on the inside to get out and even harder for people on the outside to get in. Many on the outside wonder if there is anything worth getting into on the inside. Those on the inside have somehow forgotten why they are inside in the first place and what they are really meant to be about!

The Sending God

God said, “Go back, I’m sending you.” Maybe, GO BACK is a word for us too. At least that what the blazing bush in my corner seems to saying. I have taken off my sandals because the words are stopping me in my tracks.

The God who STILL speaks from burning bushes, mighty winds, angels and still small voices in our neighborhoods IS the Sent and Sending God.

God sent Moses (Exodus 3:10), Abraham (Genesis 12), Joseph (Genesis 45:7), Gideon (Judges 6:14), Esther, Ezekiel (2:3), Samuel (1 sam.3), Ruth, Deborah, Joshua, Jonah and all the prophets (2 Chron.24:19).

Then God the Father sent the Son (Luke 4:43, John 3:16-17, Romans 5:81, John 4:9).  The Father and the Son sent the Spirit (John 15:26).

The Triune One sends us! (Matthew 10:16, Luke 10:3 Mark 6:7 John 17:18, 20:21, 22, Acts 26:17b and most familiarly the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19,20)).

Many of us have been hearing this Sentness progression for awhile now. But are we living it?

If we’re sent ones, sent to “go and make disciples”, how do we not just to reach out but actually go out? How do we ‘go out of’ (get out of?) our Christian huddles and cuddles, out of our Christendom modes of being and doing? How do we in our everyday coming and going, be faithfully present, living incarnationally, keeping daily rhythms with and amongst our neighbours which ‘teach’ them (and us) to obey everything that Jesus commanded. And what has the Lord commanded?

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

That was the kairos moment, a burning bush for me.

We have to go back to the basics.  We have to obey His commandments.  If we want to transform lives and communities –if we want to make disciples teaching them to obey everything He commanded… ought we not to start with learning to obey ourselves? We have to go back and love our neighbors. This does not mean “invite them to church” (AKA Sunday morning service), or to programs or rallies, or to say a prayer, or learn our catechism, or hear a sermon.

We have to do what God did: Love Them. Be with them. Become a ‘them’ just as Jesus became one of us and moved in right next door (John 1:14 MSG).

So maybe that’s it…That’s it.  Simple. “Go back, I am sending you.  I am with you.”

But if that’s it, what implications does that have for church as we know it?

I don’t know all the answers to that question but I do know that it could change everything.

Because it did for Moses

God said no to Moses hanging out in Midian. Is he saying no to us settling in our pews and programs?  

God said no, it doesn’t matter that you don’t think you can speak. It doesn’t matter that you’re old or that you blew it 40 years ago. GO.

Go back! I’m sending your to your neighbor!

What if God wants every follower of Jesus to go back and “live among” like he did? What if God’s sending us to be the Presence of Jesus and discover what God is up to right on their street? What if He really intended for us to keep His great commandment and really love our actual neighbors— the ones we drive by on our way to ‘church’ (aka the building to which we commute) several times a week?

That’s a mind bending, unsettling, dangerous fire- bush of a thought…  And take note: blazing bushes are hot stuff!

There’s one more thing we need to know about kairos moments: they are HOLY momentsMoments when we know we’re in the Presence of God and like Moses, we take off our sandals and pause in wonder and awe, because we realize we are on holy ground. May we respond like Isaiah saying:

Here I am Lord. Send me.

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Dr. Karen Wilk
Dr. Karen Wilk is a National Team Member of Forge Canada’s Missional Training Network, and a Missional Leader Developer for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Karen is the Lead Catalyser of Neighbourhood Life/NEW (Neighbourhood Engagement Workers) Community in Alberta, where she actively engages church leadership in moving their congregations out into neighborhoods. She has been a pastor in Edmonton for almost 28 years and completed a Doctorate in Missional Leadership at Northern Seminary in Chicago. Karen is the author of Don’t Invite Them To Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go and Be Church. She is also a neighbor, wife, mom, and minister who is leading her own neighborhood community.
Dr. Karen Wilk

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