It is very unusual for a church leader to encourage followers to shake things up within the church, but these were the marching orders Pope Francis I gave to three million young people last week in Buenos Aires:
I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures, because these need to get out…Don’t forget: make trouble.
My brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church may be debating the exact nature of the trouble to which the pontiff is calling the faithful. But I hope believers in every corner of the Body of Christ consider what kind of mess God to which may be inviting them in their own local churches.
There is a cost to becoming a trouble-maker. Jesus’ life and ministry stands as Exhibit A, as well as Exhibits B–Z. 2,000 years of church history demonstrates that the Body of Christ attracts trouble-makers of the worst kind: sociopaths, meglomaniacs, freelancers, bullies and whacked-out people of every possible variety. It also attracts many more remarkable people who become rebels for Christ’s cause, continuing and extending his work in the world he loves in countless remarkable, worshipful, kingdom-fueled ways. Sometimes members of the first group appears to gain social or financial rewards for their toxic ways. Sometimes those who are members of the latter group are misunderstood or even demonized by fellow church members. And because of the patience of the Father, who allows wheat and weeds to grow side-by-side, poisonous and nourishing fraternal twin plants grow in the same soil of the Church.
The words of Pope Francis remind me that it is indeed kingdom work to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. This work is an equal-opportunity employer, as it has a role in the lives of those who are not yet in relationship with God as well as in reforming (always reforming!) we who comprise the Body of Christ.
What might the lifestyle and character of a healthy spiritual trouble-maker look like?
- Trouble-makers own their own spiritual growth, and do not rely on their church to be the primary place of spiritual formation in their lives.
- Trouble-makers do not wait to be asked by a pastor to use their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others in the Church. They aren’t especially concerned that the graces God gave them to give others may or may not fit on that congregational org chart on a wall in a church leader’s office. They do their level best to respect their leaders’ structures and authority, but they refuse to stop thinking for themselves or silencing the leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Trouble-makers are willing to ask and answer hard questions.
- Trouble-makers may not always have perfect manners, but are motivated by love. Love keeps trouble-makers from becoming full-on jerks.
- Trouble-makers recognize that Jesus is not calling them to form self-protective, cozy cliques.
- Trouble-makers worship God, recognizing that adoration is the ultimate act of disruption.
- Trouble-makers ask the Holy Spirit to test their motives. They understand if they have a sense of entitlement or a rush toward self-justification about an issue, they’ve probably veered off course somewhere.
- Trouble-makers understand that transformation – their own and the Bride to whom they belong – always requires more courage than they currently possess. Dependence on God fuels their willingness to disrupt the stale status quo.