Have you ever had one of those times when you’ve had a lot on your mind?
This week has been such a time for me. I was in Colorado Springs at the beginning of the week for a conference, of sorts, called “The Fellowship of Presbyterians.” On the way home and during the rest of the week, I’ve been reading my first book for my Doctorate of Ministry program at Fuller. The book is called The Sky is Falling!?!: Leadership Lost in Transition, by Alan Roxburgh.
I won’t go into all the details, but I’d like to highlight some thoughts I’ve been reflecting upon from the Fellowship and this book.
This was my third time attending one of these events. The first was in Minneapolis, last August. The denomination of which I am a part, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is going through significant transition and turmoil. Within the leadership of the church, there is a massive split over various beliefs. The split runs pretty evenly.
Most of the votes at our national level are decided by a 2% percent margin.
A large group of Presbyterians have sought to positively respond to these challenges within our denomination by forming the Fellowship of Presbyterians. The Fellowship seeks to empower churches to be more effective in their ministry of spreading the love of Jesus to as many people as possible.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going to all three Fellowship gatherings so far. My faith has been enriched by the wonderful opportunities for fellowship with other church leaders, powerful worship services, and convicting teaching sessions. And this last week was no different.
I’ve also noticed a profound sense of comfort and relief while at these gatherings. I’m surrounded with people who share similar frustrations with our denomination or who agree with how our churches should move forward. The environment feels safe.
The Sky is Falling!?!
Meanwhile, I’ve been reading a book all about the seismic transitions the church in North America has been experiencing over the past 50 years. Our culture has been dramatically changing. People no longer trust institutions in the way they once did. Everybody has incredible access to an unprecedented amount of information. People aren’t staying involved in church to the same degree as they used to.
The author, Alan Roxburgh, suggests that this isn’t the first time in history that God’s followers have experienced monumental change. He describes this process with an interesting word – liminality.
This word describes the experience of being pushed to the margins. The liminality of the church can be seen in that it doesn’t have the same social influence it once did.
About half way through the book, Roxburgh described pointed me to various settings in the Bible where God worked in positions of liminality – in the scenarios where you’d least expect it.
I was stunned – I literally had to stop reading – when he described the story of Ruth in this way. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve read the story of Ruth a faith amount and I’ve even translated it from the original Hebrew. So it’s not an unfamiliar story to me.
In short, it’s the story of how the ancestors of Israel’s King David became a part of Israel. The most famous part of the story is when the widowed Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, decides to stay with her, no matter what.
What Roxburgh said wasn’t the most profound thing ever, but it hit me in a profound way. He described this event in Ruth like this: “God’s future almost always emerges in the most God-forsaken places.”
What he meant was that through the faithfulness of a foreign widow to her widowed mother-in-law, Israel received its greatest king. In a totally humble place, in the place you’d least expect it, God did something amazing.
A Conference and a Class
This struck me as I thought about all the challenge our denomination faces. I continue to lament how our culture is losing its Christian worldview and how the PC(USA) isn’t doing what I think it should.
And when I go to the Fellowship gatherings, I feel safe because church feels like what I think it should. It’s what I’m used to and wish things could return to. The choir is huge. Everybody passionately sings all the worship songs they learned in 2002 and have been singing since. I see friends who I trust. And I am convicted by pastors I’m willing to listen to.
But I wonder if while I am clinging to what comforts me, I’m missing where God might also be at work elsewhere.
It’s just that as I’ve attended this conference and read this book for my class, I’ve been convicted. God seems to be showing me that he can also work in the liminal spaces in the world. In fact, God is often the most at work in those liminal spaces, the situations where we feel the sky is falling.
I could go on for much longer about this, but I think this is enough for now. So I ask, when have you seen God working in the liminal parts of your life? When have you seen God working in the most God-forsaken places?