What it looks like when God is busy among us
Recently I asked readers to suggest what it looks like when Stanley Hauerwas’s test of the church being the church is met—when God is busy among us. Many have offered interesting and sometimes helpful ideas and images here.
Of course, since this is my blog, I have some answers of my own to offer. Inevitably, most will agree with parts of what I suggest and disagree with other parts. But these are my musings on the subject. And I think it’s a terribly important subject. Every church ought to ask itself from time to time whether God is busy among them and how they know.
Whenever I look at the whole New Testament for one over arching “sign” of God’s busy-ness among his people one word comes to mind. It encompasses a lot of secondary signs. The over arching one is “transformation.” God is busy when people’s lives are being transformed.
I believe God is busy when people are transcending their normal, everyday, cultural values and ways of living, their prejudices and aspirations, and receiving new values and ways of living from God. The shalom of God in all its facets becomes their driving love and aspiration. It’s what they care about above their own self-actualization and enhancement.
That remains vague, however, and needs to be filled with specific content. What does it look like?
People get saved in all kinds of ways. Sinners admit their sin and accept the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Righteous people” are humbled and admit they have nothing they have not been given.
People begin to overcome their natural tribalisms and love people unlike themselves. God is busy when a church is diverse and its unity is in faith, hope and love and not in natural similarities.
People welcome and care about the weak and unlovely, the outsiders and rejected people and sacrifice their comfort for them.
People love to worship God with joy and they acquire an overriding sense of peace in spite of troubling circumstances. They look forward eagerly to coming together to encourage each other in the faith of Jesus Christ.
People love one another with a supernatural love. “See how they love one another.” They gain a reputation as a group of people who love each other with acts of mercy and forgiveness.
People love the Word of God, are eager to study the Bible and be transformed by the renewing of their minds by biblical truth energized by the Holy Spirit.
People talk about what God is doing in their own lives and among them—witnessing to the power of God in their lives by guiding, providing, healing, encouraging, convicting.
People hold each other accountable, not self-righteously or punitively, but with love and concern for their spiritual well-being.
People provide for each other sacrificially and show true hospitality to each other and those outside the church.
People want to join in the mission of God to the whole world, not paternalistically (so that there will be more of “us” and less of “them”) but with true benevolence and eagerness for all to know what Jesus Christ has done for all.
People cry or show feeling in some way when the Holy Spirit is moving among them and upon them with conviction, encouragement, transforming power.
The gospel is preached fearlessly and with power.
The leaders do not have to beg for money. People give joyfully because they see God busy among them.
There is no spirit of superiority over other churches or denominations or groups; all credit is given to God and none to people.
Visitors sense God is busy there and say so.
You might wonder if such a church ever existed. Or you might read my list and say “I know a church like that.” You might think it’s an impossible dream or you might enjoy such a church (whether called “church” or not) where you are now.
Or you might be like me. I once had the privilege of being part of a church with all those characteristics. Everyone in town knew that God was busy there (except a few fellow Christians who attributed it to Satan because the church didn’t adhere to their strict notions of “true Christianity”). The church had flaws. One of the key leaders struggled with a besetting sin that was eventually revealed and he had to resign. But the miracle was that God worked through him even as he struggled mostly alone with his sin. But more miraculous was that the busy-ness of God was not dependent on him or any other individual; it depended solely on the eager openness of the people to whatever God wanted to do among them.
You might think I’m romanticizing a past “golden age” and misremembering, choosing to block out how really ordinary that church was. All I can say is, ask anyone who was there then. That church, during those years, turned out more ministers, missionaries, workers on behalf of the poor and oppressed, and evangelists (whether they were called that or not) than any church its size I have ever heard of.
No, I’m not romanticizing it. It had problems. There were lots of “irregular people” there. It was a church that welcomed them when no other church did and sometimes they caused serious problems—or “regular people” caused problems because of them. But overall and in general it was a place where God was very busy in exceptional ways.
Being part of such a church in my youth and young adulthood was both a blessing and a curse. I know this to be true of many others who were there at the same time as well. It was a blessing because God was busy among us and within us in lasting, life-transforming ways. It was a curse because few churches (none in my experience) live up to that example. Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I have not experienced God busy in other churches. I have, just not to the same extent and in the same ways. And I’m not giving credit for that church’s experience of God’s busy-ness to any person or group; it was, I’m convinced, a sovereign work of God simply permitted by the people. It all began when they decided to open the church to people among whom God was at work but who were not welcome anywhere else because of their appearance and lifestyles. And they didn’t just “allow them” to attend; they let them bring God’s unique work among them into the church with them—at great risk and cost.
So how might a church move from God not being busy among them to God being busy among them? I have no formula other than one—become absolutely, unconditionally, prayerfully and eagerly open to it. Why don’t churches do that more often? Because when God gets really busy change happens, walls of safety and security come down, risk becomes the order of the day. Some people will leave, maybe “pillars” of the church. I fear that most churches are more concerned about self-preservation than God being busy among them. That has to change for God to become busy there.