When I was a kid I used to have a stupid “knock knock” joke I liked to tell. I would begin it by saying, “this knock knock joke is different… because you have to start it.” And so my victim would smile and say, “knock knock.” To which I would reply with enthusiasm “who’s there?” Then, of course, they would get a bewildered look on their face because they had no idea what to say next. It wasn’t their joke.
I have come to the conclusion that this is the very position many of our churches are in today. We have good intentions, but we’re not really sure what to do or where to go next. We thought we knew the rules, but unexpectedly someone changed them (God?) and we are left standing there bewildered and confused.
One of the ways the Church is changing is in the growing consensus that the mission field of today’s Church is not just off in Africa or Asia (where indigenous churches are growing faster than ever), but right outside our own doors. It has been suggested, and I agree, that the cure for the malaise in most of our mainline denominations is a renewed and reinvigorated sense of faith and mission.
In many ways, renewal in the church is really a matter of getting back to the basics of discipleship. It’s kind of like the story of Vince Lombardi’s last season as head coach of the Green Bay Packers. The team had just suffered a humiliating defeat the week before and now they had to play again. Lombardi knew there was little he could say to the team that hadn’t already been said. But in his remarkable manner, Lombardi met the challenge head-on.
Picking up the familiar oblong, leather ball, he brought everyone’s attention back to the basics with five simple words: “Men, this is a football.” One of his players who understood exactly how badly they needed to review the essentials spoke up and said, “Hold on, Coach, you’re going too fast!”
There are times in the life of the Church when we also need to be reminded of the basics: God is real, we are not our own masters, God is already and work in the Church and in the world around us and wants us to join him in that work, and there is nothing more important than loving and trusting God with all our hearts.
During Lent, we go back to these (and other) basics of our faith in our preparation for Easter. This year we will be offering a class on the book “Unbinding the Gospel” on Wednesday nights that is one of the best books on the basics of being faithful disciples I’ve ever read. If you haven’t already read it (or even if you have and would like a review), I highly recommend joining me for this study.
Now get out there and play ball!