Bridging the gap between tradition and innovation: Toward a relevant body of Christ

Jessica Walter,
Associate for Communication and Leadership Cultivation

Our Church is skillfully playing out the story of the Exodus. Having eagerly taken the mantle of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we have left Egypt, bound for the Promised Land. Still, in order to get to that promise we must first experience God’s teaching in the desert in a time of change, confusion, exhaustion, and longing. Like the Israelites, we don’t easily recognize where we are and why we are here. Whether we recognize our state or not, we are in the midst of a massive shift that causes tensions to flair and lines to be drawn.

On one side of the line are those who identify with the Israelites who began to idolize Egypt. Sara Groves describes the situation in her song “Painting Pictures of Egypt,”

“I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt, leaving out what it lacked. The future seems so hard and I want to go back…the past is so tangible I know it by heart, familiar things are never easy to discard…caught between the promise and the things I know.”

The people on this side of the line are unsure of the future. They want to go back to the way thing used to be, preferring “the good old days” and “the way things were.” In this unsureness, it’s easy to forget that change is part of God’s design; just look at like the seasons.

Those on the other side identify with the Israelites who began to mistrust Moses and that the desert experience was mandated by God. As Alan Roxburgh explains in his book The Sky is Falling!?! Leaders Lost in Transition these are “a people for whom transition became the norm.” For them the “way things were” is a disconnected ideal of the past that must be in the past for a reason. They are full of distrust, cynicism, and questions because they see a Christ in the pages of the Bible that means something more powerful than what they see manifested today. They are searching and trying to create a Body of Christ that is real and true to Christ.

As these sides contest for the future the line between us, once just a groove in the sand, is becoming a canyon. Congregations desperately trying to revive the ways of old are slowly dying. New faith communities, defying anything tried and true, come and go with the wind. All the while the world watches and finds us less stable than the changing times and increasingly irrelevant.

Our problems lie in an inability to communicate with each other and work together to form a relevant Body of Christ. These problems exist because of fear, stubbornness, and pride as we prefer the misery of today over the mystery of tomorrow. In our stubbornness and resistance to change, we dig in our heels and close our hearts dismissing each other’s ideas and questions as ridiculous. Pride keeps us from moving, knowing that opening ourselves to each other might suggest that we’ve been wrong in the past.

To become a community that can truly call itself the Body of Christ we will need to put aside these things and communicate with each other. We must build relationships that are open to accountability, honest enough to voice our fears, trusting enough to let one another lift us up, humble enough to give and receive grace, and above all infused with God’s love. Making it a priority to care for each other truthfully and lovingly in action, not just words, will require personal sacrifice of comfort and a willingness to go beyond surface issues. To do this we need to recognize, cultivate, and encourage people who are able and willing to reach across the canyon to develop these relationships.

A bridge is already under construction that brings together the strength of the past with current innovation to create a relevant Body of Christ. But we are barely grasping what it is we need to do because it will take almost all of us to create something that is powerfully real and true.