For centuries, the desire to fly has interested humanity. Despite this interest, the attempts at flying were frustrating endeavors resulting in failure that sometimes came at a great cost, as people died while attempting to fly .
You might recall seeing pictures of people harnessing themselves in bird-like wings. They believed that by emulating the wings of birds that they might successfully fly as birds do. The assumption was that reduplication of the reptilian form was the only way in which humanity would achieve the same function of flight. Of course, this was wrong. More importantly though, on December 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright brothers became the first humans to succeed in flying and they did so not by emulating the reptilian form but by pioneering a new innovative approach to aviation.
Similarly, in metaphorical terms, churches long to fly as well . That is, most churches I know want to be a community whose faith is thriving through great worship, fellowship, and mission that includes both evangelistic and service oriented ministries.
For many churches within the restoration heritage, the attempt to fly has been to try and reduplicate the pattern of the first-century church. This assumed first that one single pattern existed and that such pattern could be mined from the New Testament. That assumption reduced the New Testament to a flat text which was read like a set of by-laws on church polity rather than a dynamic collection of Christian writings which both reveal and shape true living faith in Christ. Secondly it assumed that by such reduplication — restoring churches to that assumed single pattern within the New Testament — that contemporary churches would function as the conduits of God’s mission as they are called to be.
Rarely has anyone considered that, as followers of Jesus, God is asking his people to pursue an innovative vision that only God can bring about among the church. I believe it is time for an innovative dream to be pursued!
It’s Time to Fly!
In scripture, we hear the call from Jesus, the invitation to follow him (cf. Matt 4:19; Mk 1:17; Lk 5:10-11; Jn 1:35-51). So I begin with the assumption that pursuing an innovative dream for the future of our church must oblige us towards growth as followers of Jesus. Such an obligation happens as we take the information we have in scripture so that we can imitate Jesus as his followers and eventually innovate his way of life in our own cultural context just as the early Christians did in Jewish and Gentile contexts .
The vision, in short, is to live as a kingdom community within the larger community and culture. It’s living as participants in God’s mission of restoring creation; living as a people who offer good news to the weak, the poor, and the blind; living as a church that is attractive to those longing for hope yet so committed to Jesus that it is impossible to confuse the church’s identity.
What must change among church for this vision to become reality? That is a question worth asking!
- I wrote a similar yet different article of the same title that was published in Connecting, 28 (January 9, 2013), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.
- The relating of the Wright brothers successful flight as an illustration for churches comes from Tim Woodroof, A Church That Flies: A New Call to Restoration in the Churches of Christ (Orange, CA: New Leaf Books, 2000), 5-7.
- The triadic language of information, imitation, and innovation comes from Mike Breen and Steve Cockram, Building a Discipling Culture, 2nd ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: 3 Dimension Ministries, 2011), 48-51.