Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian prophetic and provocative philosopher and theologian who was frustrated by the state of Christianity he saw around him in the early 19th century, so he wrote this parable to try and explain the problem.
“A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it. Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk. One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travellers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence?
I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.
The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.
And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!” *An English translation as quoted by Athol Gill, The Fringes Of Freedom: Following Jesus, Living Together, Working For Justice.
Do I need to spell out the what the little Danish prophet is getting at? Ok I will. On Sunday around the world tens of millions of geese (Christians) gathered in barn yards (churches) to hear philosophers (preachers) talk about an existence beyond the normal (Kingdom of God) but on, Monday (and the rest of the week), many didn’t fly, they didn’t actually live the life of the Kingdom. What Kierkegaard was arguing through satire was that the church in his day in Denmark was producing listeners but not disciples. Kierkegaard was expressing a warning that had already been issued in the New Testament. James expresses the same sentiments with these words, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James 1;22 Two centuries on I wonder how much has changed?
I am not sure I know of any more piercing and damming indictment of the Church than Kierkegaard’s final paragraph, “And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!” I am pretty certain that many people left Church buildings on Sunday and did indeed feel “uplifted, inspired and moved by the message” but they didn’t fly, they either can’t or won’t live the life of the Kingdom of God. They won’t risk the corn of this world for the adventure of living in the Kingdom of God. Its good when we feel inspired by a worship service but if we are just inspired, nothing has really changed and to be frank its all been a bit pointless.
I have to confess that I don’t have all the answers for how to address this problem but I am convinced that we as the church in this changing era need to make the focus of our Christianity less about what we do for a few hours on Sunday and more about what we do every day in our every day lives as a result of gathering for worship. We need to learn to fly. We need to express our believing in our behaving.
So I am more and more convinced that Kierkegaard was right, that we need to liberate the church from being a place people go primarily to hear a message to being a community that embodies and expresses and so lives out the radical message of the Kingdom of God. This why we are having a renewed emphasis on Discipleship at Westlake. Discipleship is the key to a vibrant expression of church and needs to become our holy obsession, our main emphasis and ultimate goal. After all isn’t that what Jesus called us to do? “Therefore go and make disciples …” Matthew 28:19 or to paraphrase the little Danish gadfly, “Therefore go and make geese who can fly!”