Its Sunday evening and as a pastor I find that I often become introspective on Sunday evening, thinking about church and ministry. Tonight is one of those introspective times I have been pondering two questions.
The first one is, “I wonder how many sermons were preached and listened to, today? ” Online, in church buildings? Probably millions?
The second question is “What impact will they make?” How many of those sermons will make a real difference in people’s lives, in families, in workplaces, in communities, in nations? How many will make any difference? How is it with so many expositions of God’s Word, heard by so many millions of people, that we as the Church make so little impact on our world ?
Those questions brought back to my memory a parable once told by the remarkable Danish Christian philosopher, or perhaps more accurately, prophet, Soren Kierkegaard.
”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 travelers 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. )
Kierkegaard, the little Danish gadfly, satirizes the Christianity of his generation three centuries ago in that parable. On Sundays all over the world millions of of geese (Christians) will have gathered in barn yards (church buildings, Zoom, YouTube ) to hear philosophers (preachers) talk about an existence beyond the normal (Kingdom of God) but frankly on Monday all too many won’t fly, they won’t actually live in the Kingdom.
I am not sure anything has changed in three centuries.
I am not sure that I know of a more 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!”
People will have left Church in all of its different forms on Sunday and the lucky ones will have left “uplifted, inspired and moved by the message” However, the sad truth is that the vast majority won’t fly, they 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. They’ll choose the security of barnyard living over the excitement and danger of taking to the air.
I have to be honest and say thinking about all of this raises more questions for me than I have answers for.
What I am convinced of is that we need to make 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. We need a bigger emphasis on flying. We need to liberate the church from being a place people go primarily to hear a message to being a community that then goes out in mission to live out that message. We need to become a community that doesn’t just talk about how great flying is, but who actually get in the air. We need to more constantly be what we believe as follower of Jesus.
I warn you now that we as a Church in the next few months are going to put a lot of thought and action into helping us geese get off the ground. There are so many things that are uncertain about church right now, but I can share one certainty Westlake is going to become a community which never settles for being a barnyard where most of the geese don’t fly.