“…speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16
Paul is talking about what it means to live out our identity as the church, as part of the body of Christ, each one of us called and gifted to a life of purpose, a life that not only enjoys the presence and blessing of God, but life that reflects and shares God’s love and invitation with others.
It doesn’t take much reading through the letters of the New Testament to realize that the earliest church (which we sometimes idealize) had its own share of struggles and challenges and cultural pressures and change that they had to navigate through. That’s an encouraging thought to me, as we continue to work out what it means to be faithful and obedient in following Jesus into the mission of God as part of the family of God.
What stands out to me in this brief section of his letter to Christians everywhere, and particularly to those in Ephesus, is how he bookends this thought with love: the kind of love that is rooted in God’s love and God’s purpose for us – that we grow, growing into unity with God through Christ, growing in love for God and one another. Earlier, Paul has talked about the importance of understanding each of us as being given gifts and a place in this family, that it takes all of us working together to live out our calling and purpose. Here, Paul emphasizes the need for speaking the truth in love, understanding that God intends for us to grow and grow together.
In times of struggle and change, this emphasis on love, truth, and purpose are critical.
We have some important questions to work out together, and we will need all three in view.
In love, we need to seek the truth together about what the church is really for: what God is calling us to here and now, and who we will be, what we will do, in response to that calling.
Some thoughts I want to offer as starting points to those conversations:
- There are different kinds of change. And we can spend lots of energy on the kinds of change that won’t matter. There’s a difference between technical change and adaptive change. Technical change is tactics; it’s talking about curriculum or advertising or what kind of music we do on Sunday morning. Adaptive change keeps the purpose in view: what is the core of what we’re about, and are we willing to put everything on the table except our core, in order to live out our purpose?
- Aim first. Ask first. Instead of jumping to solutions to the challenges, let’s make sure we do the work of trying to ask the right questions. When we’re stressed, we are most tempted to revert to what we’re most comfortable with, what we grew up with, including patterns that aren’t helpful, or that used to be helpful but aren’t anymore. Part of speaking the truth in love includes being quick to listen (James 1:19). If we offer answers to things that are important to us, but not to others, we aren’t going to get far.
- Speaking truth (being honest, being real), and doing so in love. Sometimes we don’t say things that need to be said because we’re afraid of hurting each other’s feelings. Sometimes we don’t say it to the right person because we don’t want to jeopardize the relationship. Sometimes we avoid difficult topics because, well, let’s face it – it can be painful, and who really wants to seek that out? But when we are willing to have those conversations, grounded in the desire to help each other grow, recognizing our own fears and hopes and gifts and failings, we can start to have the kinds of conversations that surface what we are really thinking, and enable us to listen for God’s guidance together, inviting us into new places we may not have been able to envision before.
Challenges and change are not new – and they’re not a surprise to God or anything God cannot lead us through. As the leaders and pastor of Memorial Baptist, we want to get together with you, to listen and share and pray. We’ll be offering times through the summer and I’ll be around after worship; I would love to get together and talk.
Blessings on the way,