Last Sunday I listened to a sermon on the 10 Commandments, and the preacher closed by proclaiming that we (the church) were God's gift to the world. Because we covenant through membership to follow those commandments, then we are God's witness to what the world would be like if we all lived by those commandments.
His conclusion is filled with both angst and promise. The covenanted community is who we are called to be, yet no one inside the church would say that we come close to embodying that promise. Who was it who said that the church was like Noah's ark: we couldn't stand the stench inside if it weren't for the fierce storm on the outside? We know who we are, and we also know the pitfalls of policing one another's behavior. The false religiosity of the church has done us immeasurable harm. The plain truth is that neither pastors nor congregants are any better at living God's dream for the world than those with no religion at all. In fact, the only difference between those inside the church and those outside the church is that those inside have indeed promised to try to live in accordance with God's hope for the world.
And yet, that is enough... or it could be. We hold out this vision of what the world could be, and we try and try and try again to embody that vision. Whenever we fall short (and we always will), our saving grace is that we admit it to ourselves and each other, and recovenant to do no harm, to do good, and to stay in love with God. The disappointment of the world is in our inability to admit our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities, both individually and collectively. The judgment of the world is that we haven't loved radically enough to hold one another accountable - not by way of judgment, but by way of love. Life inside the church isn't pretty; it's gritty. It isn't safe and serene; it's fraught with possibilities of failure and disappointment. Only when we own who we are, do we stand in solidarity with the world. It is only that solidarity that makes our promise to be different shine like that proverbial light on a hill.
Every leader in the church, pastors and laity, must lead with this vulnerability and promise. It all begins with a leadership covenant. Does your church have one? If so, what does it contain, and what are the stumbling blocks as you try to live into that covenant?