Ben Casey. Dr. Kildare. M*A*S*H. ER. St. Elsewhere. Scrubs. Grey’s Anatomy. House. Which was or is your favorite medical show?
Right now, I like House. Yes, it’s crude and crass. Emmy winner Hugh Laurie plays the part of a pain-killer-addicted, rude-bedside-mannered surgeon who says things out loud that no human should ever think. But I like the plot lines, even if they are predictable. A patient presenting strange symptoms gets run through a battery of tests and experimental treatments until, finally, a diagnosis is established, treatment gets administered, and she or he recovers.
House provides an apt metaphor for today’s Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). The church is presenting confusing symptoms.
Â· Some congregations growing, but many others shrinking.
Â· Some congregations raging against the denomination. Others “sinfully proud to be Presbyterian.”
Â· Many oblivious to the denomination.
Â· Some troubled by leftward leanings. Others decrying rightward leanings.
Â· Lots of rude talk going around.
A group of ecclesiastical physicians huddle around the patient, offering a wide range of diagnoses.
Â· “The powers have cut our missionary force.”
Â· “The critics have cut mission funding.”
Â· “The powers are using heavy-handed legal maneuverings to seize property.”
Â· “The critics are using heavy-handed legal maneuverings to seize property.”
Â· “The powers are pushing party-politic, social justice issues.”
Â· “The critics are pushing party-politic, anti-social justice issues.”
Â· “The powers’ inclusiveness is driving away our members.”
Â· “The critics’ purist purgings are driving away our members.”
Â· “The powers aren’t leading.”
Â· “The critics are blocking the leaders.”
Most proffered diagnoses blame either “the powers” or “the critics” as the primary cause for the disease. Given the physicians’ contradictory analyses, every attempt to prescribe a course of treatment evokes a contrary proposal.
Several ecclesiastical physicians cluster into sub-huddles.
One group announces that the church is terminal, its situation hopeless (see report on p. 7). Some of them even whisper among themselves, “Pull the plug” and follow with “Let’s get out of here.”
Another group announces that the church must be kept alive via life support equipment. Some of them add, “But don’t try anything new. We don’t want to disrupt the status quo.”
A third group experiments with alternative medications. Some of their medicines–mostly untested–seem as weird as acupuncture, drinking native potions from the Amazon, as having hot rocks placed all over your back. Might they be injecting healing into the church?
Among our 11,000 congregations a small but growing number are breaking out of old forms and norms to communicate the Christian message in a new way in this new day. Some call themselves “Emergents,” others “Purpose-Driven,” others “Peacemaking,” others “Natural Church Growth.” Still others have no labels but do have fresh ideas.
Such innovations offer hope for breakthroughs not only in church growth but also in community transformation, societal humanization, and disciple-making education.
They remind us that the greatest creativity in the church will usually be found on the front lines of ministry–in the mission stations and local congregations where the church directly encounters the world.
They testify to the inventiveness of the human spirit, and to the missional potential of the gathered community.
And, they testify to the power of the resurrection that looks at dying bodies, and shouts, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
To those who are ready to pull the plug, and to those who would rather survive via life-support systems, please hear the word of the wildly innovative, church-building ecclesiastical physicians: Jesus is alive in and among us. The Ruach-Pneuma-Spirit is breathing Christ’s resurrected new life through us. Let us together taste the new wine of the Spirit, and let us together find a whole range of new wineskins through which the Spirit may be poured.
May the patient pick up the gurney and walk.