How do you measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights? In cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
These are the lyrics from Seasons of Love, a song from Jonathan Larson’s Broadway musical-turned-motion-picture, RENT. Larson reminds us that there are 525,600 minutes in a year. How do we measure a year in the life?
People naturally measure accomplishments, experiences, and well, life, in various ways. Jonathan knows that, and thoughtfully concludes his piece by saying that the only proper measure of a year of human life is love.
Just last night I heard a story from pastor – and now, innovator – Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC). Aldo and some of his friends from PPC wandered into a Home Depot the other week to purchase a door. When asked how large the door was that they needed, Aldo pulled a rope out of his pocket. A bit unconventional, yet surprisingly effective.
So we can measure doors with ropes, and according to Larson, we can measure a year with love. But how do we measure the church? Is this even possible?
One of the latest catchphrases I’ve come across asks us to rethink and reimagine how we “do church.” Two buzzwords that seem simple yet are surprisingly substantial.
As the death toll rose to nine on Sunday evening, my thoughts turned to the recent events along Interstate 35W in Minneapolis. What most don’t know is that there is a small Mennonite community that gathers just blocks from where the 35W bridge collapsed. This emergent community is called Missio-Dei.
Missio-Dei is made up of around ten persons who are committed to “following Jesus’ way of peace, simplicity, prayer, and radical hospitality.” They strive to embody the presence of Jesus in their local community known as the West Bank. I visited Missio-Dei this past May, and learned first-hand what it means to live out the Jesus Manifesto in one’s daily life. I can only imagine how they are living out their convictions in lieu of the this tragedy.
We mustn’t measure church in numbers of people or a spacious building, and we can’t just “do church” on Sunday mornings.
Also in May, I had the opportunity to hang out in the “Quadrangle” of Yale Divinity School and attend a conference for pastors sponsored of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture – a division of the Divinity School directed by Christian theologian Miroslav Volf.
I was privileged enough to participate in a seminar led by Executive Director Dr. David W. Miller titled, “Business Ethics: Succeeding without Selling your Soul.” I had a hard time sitting through this hour and a half. As the only Anabaptist – I think – in the room, I felt like Miller’s words were common knowledge to me, something I live without thinking.
Granted, I am a communication and business student at Goshen College and understand the need for ethics in the workplace. As an Anabaptist Mennonite, I understand – more correctly, am continuing to understand – the duality of faith and work. “Christians should not just gather on Sunday and scatter on Monday. We must develop a hermeneutic of the marketplace,” Miller said in his seminar. Miller’s words seemed poignant yet second nature, answers to questions I’m not really asking.
We can’t just “do church” on Sunday, and then casually “do work” on Monday. And we can’t measure church in how sensible our theologians are.
Living in Srok-Khmer (Cambodia) for three months as part of my Study/Service Term at Goshen College taught me a lot. As I worshiped and lived with my Christian host family within a mostly Buddhist nation, I learned how church is an extension of our being. Rarely did I have the chance to see my host brothers and sister from 5-9pm, because they were always at church.
They have the “church during the week” thing down. I will admit, their leadership committee is not as organized as I’d like it to be. For them, church is a way to connect with their neighbors, a safe space to hang out after dark, a place to learn English from a native speaker, and a melting pot for American, Khmer, and international fine arts.
We can’t just “do church” through strong sermons and effective worship sessions. And to measure church by the effectiveness of our committees would be slightly irrational.
I am trying not to get caught up in figuring out the best or most relevant way to “do church,” or how to “measure” it between four walls. Frankly, I wish we’d spend less time wondering how to “do church” and more time living – and loving – as the body of Christ we say that we are. My high school tennis coach, Scott Landis, used to tell me: Tennis is life, life is tennis. It makes me think: Church is life, life is church.
The only way to measure the church is in love. The only way to do church is to live the call.
There are 525,600 minutes in a year. That’s 525,600 opportunities to love. And 525,600 occasions to live the call.
Sheldon Good of Telford, PA, served as an intern with Franconia Conference for the second summer in a row this year. He attends Goshen College as a double major in business and communication and is a member of Salford Mennonite Church.
Cambodia Study-Service Term photo provided by Keith Graber Miller
Thanks for your inspiring, challenging and thought-provoking ‘message.’ Is this church? If so, then I have only 525,599 more opportunities for living love “this year.” Blessings.
Claude Good says
Thanks Sheldon. I’d like to affirm your statement “I wish weâ€™d spend less time wondering how to â€œdo churchâ€ and more time living â€“ and loving â€“ as the body of Christ we say that we are.”
The only one who can “do church” is Christ Himself living in us. I sometimes wonder what would happen if we spent as much time “getting to know Him” as we do trying to figure out how to do it. I suspect that we would find ourselves “doing it” and barely realizing that we are.
Good stuff here!
At that same conference at YDSchool I went to a seminar on how clergy
can be less isolated by having worthwhile friendships… maybe within their own communities, IMAGINE THAT (sarcasm intended)! And the presenter asked me outright how Mennonites work at clergy isolation. At first I did not fully understand the question, then it dawned on me, that as a bivocational Menno pastor I do not live in such an isolated professional bubble as was being talked about. Like you describe we have different communal instincts at work… some good ones.
J. Eric Bishop says
You write with power, Sheldon! You have the knack!
I’ll miss our adventures. I consider myself blessed to have shared part of your 525,600 minute year. You are a skilled communicator and a good friend. Continue to bless others as you take advantage of those 525,600 opportunities to love.