I’m dating myself, I know, by using an old song from the rock group Chicago as a title. But it still works, I think. Knowing what time it is, knowing, that is, who we are, where we are, and how we’re supposed to live in that time is crucial to living with coherence and integrity. And I contend that by and large the North American church has not and does not now what time it is for us.
This is not primarily a sociological or historical question (though both are involved in various ways). No, it is a theological question. In fact, it is an apocalyptic question.
C. S. Lewis sets the context (or time) in which the church lives. “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage” [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 45-46]. We, the church, living in the light of God’s great and final attack on the world and its godliness in Jesus Christ, are called to carry out the implementation and extension of his victory. Our time, as it were, analogous to the Allied Forces in Europe after the victory at Normandy determined the outcome of the war in that theater (D-Day) but before treaties were signed, weapons laid down, and hostilities ceased V-Day (almost a year later). We’re on the winning side but battles remain ahead before the peace is finally and fully established. Our time is that between the cross and resurrection of Jesus and his return in glory.
This time consists of an overlap of two ages: the defeated, decaying, and disappearing old age of sin and evil and the age of new creation dawned and moving toward noonday sun. Though the outcome is decided this time remains contested, ambiguous, dangerous, and requires all the commitment and community with one another we can muster.
Knowing what time it is enables us to discern the perspectives and practices that make for effectiveness and integrity in that time. And that time is liminal. Between what we and the world have been and what we shall be. A time of experimentation and imagining new opportunities. A time in which the powers of evil are like a mortally wounded beast lashing out every which way in its death throes.
US Marine Colonel Thomas Kolditz did a unique, long-term study on the nature of leadership in just liminal and extreme conditions. He distilled six elements necessary for leaders and communities negotiating them. In such times:
-leaders are inherently motivated because of the danger of the situations in which they’re working; therefore, they seek to equip the community to survive and thrive under pressure rather than resorting to use conventional motivational methods or cheerleading.
-leaders practice continuous learning, they and their communities need to rapidly assess their environments for the level of threat and danger they’re facing.
-leaders place themselves on the front lines with the community. They share the risk and even take on greater risks in the time in which we live.
-leaders share a common lifestyle with their followers…all leaders should consider how much they really have in common with the rest of their organization.
-Dangerous situations demand a high level of mutual trust. Leaders trust their community and are themselves trustworthy.
-High-risk environments demand mutual loyalty between leader and followers... Leaders should do everything they can to foster a culture of mutual loyalty.
These skills and dynamics Col. Kolditz has identified are just what the church needs too as leaders and communities carry out that “great campaign of sabotage” God has tasked us with and gifted us for.
A discussion yesterday on FB posed the question of whether “Mission Dei” (Mission of God) and “kingdom of God” resonated in local churches or not. The response was largely that these phrases did not resonate with local church experience. I suspect it is because much of the church does not “know what time it is” (as sketched above) that accounts for this disconnect. And if we do not connect with these key and vital biblical perspectives, how can we expect the church to make its way through this liminal time with integrity and coherence.