I was nearly done, making me almost a “done” (previously very active church leaders who quit church in frustration).
Between 2005 and 2006, our family experienced the perfect storm of trying circumstances.
Chronic illness, extended family changes, my workplace shifting for the worse, the new church we were in struggling to make it.
Plus, I was doing conflict management consulting with several churches at once – an activity designed to suck the soul right out of a person.
All of this nearly turned me into one of the dones, a person who believed I could no longer find God in the church as I have known it.
Reading the Pew Research Center report on participation in Christian communities recently, it’s clear that I’m not alone when it comes to struggling to see the connections between Christ and the church.
The report describes the changes in the United States regarding Christian participation from 2007 to 2014.
I was afraid during that year and a half back in 2005-06 that I would have to find a new ministry.
Finding God in the institutional church as I had known it felt like a hide-and-seek game. “God, show yourself … surely you are in here somewhere.”
A strange thing happened as I headed out the church door: Three questions saved my (spiritual) life.
They presented themselves through reading, conversations, reflection and I’m not sure from where else. Regardless from where they came, I am so thankful for them.
Now I can’t stop pursuing, investigating, exploring and following when it comes to God’s movement in this world. These core inquiries led me to explore many more questions. Perhaps you might find them spiritually invigorating too.
1. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
I thought I knew the answers, but I was completely wrong. If you think you know the answers before deeply exploring the Scriptures and engaging others involved in this quest, then you are assuming way too much (and we know what that makes of us).
What does it mean, now, in this post-modern context, to follow Jesus Christ? When we orient our lives around Jesus, how do our lives take shape?
When we explore the way of Jesus as described in the gospels, what do we find – and then how do we live that?
When Jesus asked us to pray that God’s kingdom would come here on earth as it is in heaven, did he actually intend for the kingdom to do so?
And all those sayings in the Sermon on the Mount; the ones about loving enemies, was he serious? And forgiveness, even when the other doesn’t admit he or she is wrong or is not sorry at all?
How in the world do you expect me to do this? That would take power and strength beyond what’s natural. And then what about sharing my material resources with others who don’t have a coat (basic necessities)?
Did Jesus know this would conflict with my American-shaped cultural standards? Just what does it mean to live in the robust Way of Jesus Christ?
2. What does it mean to be a gathered community of disciples?
When these Christ followers get together, what do they do? How do they spend their time? In what ways do they help one another answer question number one above?
In what ways do they help each other when they fail? What can they do for one another when one is overwhelmed by the quest, cringing in the corner with fear? Do they speak the truth to one another in love, challenging each other when they grow arrogant or complacent?
What do they encourage each other to do with their money? And how does the gospel influence how they use their collective money? Does being church the way they are church to each other reflect the spirit and example of Jesus?
Would Jesus willingly lay down his life so that this way of being church could continue? These questions and others resurrected church for me.
3. What does it mean to be a gathered community of disciples who join God on mission in the world?
When these gathered disciples decide how to do something, how do they decide? How much do they believe the teachings of Jesus are meant to transform the world? With whom do they partner, or not partner, as they engage other organizations?
Do they believe they have the corner on God and are bringing God to their community, or do they believe God is already in their community doing something?
How do they know when they are living out their collective calling? Is there room in their view of the world for personal sacrifice in service of God’s mission?
When I started asking these questions, it became clear that I had a long way to go toward answering them. My way of life was clearly more shaped by my culture than my faith.
Now I’m on the road, moving toward answers. Now I’m always looking for partners who will ask the questions and try to live the answers with me. Now I’m convinced God has hopes and plans for the church.
I hope that you too find questions, which will take an invigorated, robust, faith-based life to answer.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this column first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. Tidsworth’s writings can also be found on his blog.