upper room daily devotions

Thursday, October 11, 2007

curing spiritual poverty in churches

How many times have you gone into a church and found it to be - of all things - spiritually poor? Like any group, institution, or human undertaking, church can be creative or boring, alive or dead, forward thinking or stuck in the past, concerned with others or obsessed with itself. Too often our churches have succumbed to depression arising from wistful nostalgia for times gone by or torn apart by conflicts arising from entrenched circles of power with competing agendas. Worship services that should celebrate the realm of God, the power of the Eucharist, and the wedding of Christ and the church feel like nap time. Worships that should offer a prophetic word to stir up in us a passion for justice are luke-warm and inoffensive - the opposite of the gospel (if you've ever read the Bible). Community-oriented gatherings intended to welcome all people feel like cliques where only the "in-crowd" is really welcome. Whether it's depression, conflict, apathy, or narcissism, the result is the same - spiritual poverty. We can't commune with God and proclaim the gospel message when we are seized by spiritual poverty.

Spiritual poverty is something that exists outside of our churches as well. It's unfortunate that too often it takes a personal awareness of one's spiritual emptiness before someone darkens the door of a church, synagogue, or other faith community. It can be a challenge for our congregations to live in the abundance of God's light and life when so many of our congregants are tired, empty, worn out, confused, and depressed.

It's time to fling the windows and doors open on our churches and ask, "Why are we here?" By establishing the church's basic function and sense of mission, we begin the cure of spiritual poverty that plagues too many congregations and too many people. Are we here to be a nice place for nice people or are we here to burn with God's passion for the world? Are we here because we've met nice people who treat us kindly or are we here to become disciples of Jesus? Spiritual health begins with an understanding that we are called into a life-long journey of communing with the Divine. Spiritual vitality is maintained through prayer, study, sacraments, acts of mercy and justice, and other spiritual practices. Just as our bodies aren't healthy if we don't feed them nutritious foods and attend to exercise for their muscles, our spirituality can't be healthy until we find food and exercise for the soul.

Like any cure, attending to spiritual poverty can take time and be a bit painful. Our churches and our own lives may require significant changes in our how we go about things. The way to health takes commitment and practice. It requires us to ask and attend to questions of mission and praxis. Above all, it demands that we set aside "what we want" from church. After all, church isn't about "me"; it's about God. I just plug and play in God's mission.

There is no reason for a church to be spiritually poor if we keep God at the center of our conversation and at the fore of our thoughts. Worship can be alive and contemplative at the same time. Community can be a place for mutual support and care. It just takes a little time and attention.

Questions for churches: Why are we here? Would the world be worse off without the church? If so, why? What difference are we making in God's mission to bring justice and offer mercy? How do we reveal to the world the power of the Incarnation? What are we doing to keep our spiritual vision alive and well?

Question for individuals: Why are you going/not going to church? Are you at church to offer your time and talents? Are you there there only to get something out of church? How are you attending daily to your spiritual vitality and relationship with God? Is God the center of your lives or is God peripheral? Do you expect a 60 minute (give or take a few minutes) to take care of all of your spiritual needs for a whole week?

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