|Masterpiece (1962) by Roy Lichtenstein
Hollywood serves up one blockbuster after another—usually a sequel to a previous blockbuster. A common element of these blockbusters is that you leave it in the theater. What I mean is, such movies might be a fun ride, but when it’s over, you get off and move on. This, for me, is a characteristic of bad art.
I might do better to say this is a characteristic of much pop art, which is not by definition bad, but is typically mass-producible and disposable. But the best art—the film or painting or story or music that really takes hold of you—is not so easily consumed and tossed aside. You finish the viewing/reading/listening experience but are still thinking about it, maybe days or weeks (or years) later.
A chief reason for this is that the artist/s didn’t do all the work for you. The art requires something of you. And so, as you keep working out what it all might mean, it becomes part of you. Subjective as it is, that—for me—is a sign of good art.
For a while now we have treated the church like a blockbuster. We have dumbed things down, blown things up, conformed things to proven templates, and marketed for mass consumption, all in a desperate attempt to produce a blockbuster. Tragically, many have succeeded.
But we have been given the makings of good art! We have been entrusted with “the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:9ff). Whoa! Maybe read that again. THAT will stick with a person.
This “wisdom of God” and “plan of the mystery” are the cross-shaped reconciliation of all to God and to each other. The “eternal purpose” of the darkness of the Father’s depths has come to light in Christ, who now gives us access to the Father—gives all of us access. His is the name given to every family in heaven and on earth (v. 14). This is the DNA of the church: the Father’s love.
This is a dramatic invitation into the Trinity-life (vv. 14-21): As we bow our knees to our Father, we are strengthened in our depths with power (a word rooted in “dynamite, dynamism”) through his Spirit. And we are indwelt by Christ, who roots and grounds us in love.
We join all the saints—the Father’s family—in living in awe of his incomprehensible love, surpassing all knowledge, as we are filled with nothing less than “all the fullness of God” (v. 19). About this fullness, John Wesley noted in his Notes on the New Testament that we are filled “…with all [God’s] light, love, wisdom, holiness, power, and glory. A perfection far beyond bare freedom from sin.”
This is the life of the church…or it should be. This is the power—the explosive, dynamic presence of God—“at work within us, able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” His glory comes “from the church and from Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” What a picture: The church connected to Christ Jesus, glorifying God to all generations, forever and ever. The possibilities are limited only by our desire just to churn out another blockbuster sequel, rather than do the real work of living into the grand expanse of God’s mystery.
I propose that, from this passage (Eph. 3), church leaders can draw something of a broader and deeper checklist, a checklist for “doing church” that really requires something of leaders and of the church--moving from blockbuster church to more of an art-house or indie way of thinking about church. So, here are some things to consider:
- Is the church characterized as making known the wisdom of God in its rich variety?
- Is the church carrying out God’s mysterious plan, revealed in Christ, to reconcile the world to God and to each other?
- Does the church bear the Father’s DNA of love and unity?
- Is the church experiencing the explosive, dynamic power of the Spirit?
- Is the church rooted and grounded in Christ’s love?
- Is the church filled with all the fullness of God (“…with all God’s light, love, wisdom, holiness, power, and glory. A perfection far beyond bare freedom from sin”)?
- In short and in summary: Does the church glorify God as part of the glory that characterizes Christ Jesus?
What does each of these look like? Indeed, what do God’s wisdom, mystery, glory, power, love, etc., look like when active in the daily life of the church? This checklist is challenging, one might say abstract. In fact, we might disregard such concepts as too abstract. We disregard these concepts to our peril as leaders and to the gashing detriment of the church.
We must move beyond the leadership concepts from the business world and from get-big-fast consultants. We might find helpful instruction on management and marketing here, but nothing of mystery. Take the lessons on structure and organization and move on! And don’t move on to another business book—move on to the “wisdom of God” and “the plan of the mystery.”
It’s scary, I know. It takes creativity. It takes working it out in community. It takes faith…BIG faith. You can’t just watch another seminar online or take your staff to another leadership conference. You actually have to learn to seek God together. Then you have to figure out how to share the God you find…in tangible, meaningful, sometimes messy and meddlesome, ways.
It’s easier to let someone else do the work—a leadership guru, a marketing expert, a church-growth wizard. These folks have their place, but it is only as an early step or an occasional corrective on the way to something deeper. It is certainly not THE means or, God forbid, THE end.
No, it’s time to move past the mediocre-to-bad art we’ve made. It’s time to draw from God’s wisdom and mystery, from God’s fullness. It’s time to create something worthy of the sprawling glory of the Trinity. It’s time to be conformed, not to some generic church template or best-selling model, but to the DNA of God’s love and reconciliation and unity. It’s time for a new definition of church health and success, for a new checklist.
It will not look like a blockbuster. It will not look like a sequel. It will challenge, take hold, and stick with us. And that's what it comes to: Do we want church to become part of us? Or do we just want to fill the theater?