Redefining “Sustainable”

In our Organic Church Best Practices discussions on the 2nd Thursdays of the month (see current events) we have been forming language around the movement of “organic church”. Even the meaning of “organic” when applied to “church”  is still anyone’s guess – especially when we get to describing what it looks like. One thing we have noticed is that we all look to our own back yard – our own experiences – when we hear these terms.

The literal meaning of organic is: “Of, relating to, or derived from living matter”. Jesus declared Himself “the Living One” in Revelation 1:18…perhaps what we are talking about is the presence of the Living One among us.

For those of us who come from a contemporary church background, “sustainability” is about maintaining attendance, budgets and programs. These ways of measuring  just don’t do it if we are really looking for the “living presence” among us. In the journey of walking out simple church, “sustainability” suggests a whole different thing: Sustaining our relationship with Jesus, and with each other – It’s about sustaining relationships. The two are worlds apart.

The institutional application requires two things: novelty and momentum – You have to “re-cast” vision every year or so –  It has to sound new and exciting. The programs have to be different from last season, while at the same time scratch the “itch” people have for new ways and “connect” with others. The worship has to be new enough to be interesting, and familiar enough to participate in.

In contrast, relational sustainability is rooted in the words of Jesus, “Abide in me” (John 15). It’s not sexy or novel. And in our culture,  “abiding” in relationships is not getting easier – it is getting harder – and more counter-cultural with every year that goes by. For example: in Minnesota, 2011 marked the first year in history when more couples who live together were unmarried then married.  Sustaining relationships is work – sometimes agonizing – and requires going through conflict without bailing out.

I do not think it is overstating anything to say that the kind of god our culture worships would never ask anyone go through “agony” to remain in a relationship. This creates a problem the person who wants to be a Jesus follower. Why? This Jesus is the one who said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matt. 16:24. Could there be a better definition of “agony” than a cross?

If we are honest, we cannot separate our willingness to go through pain in order to follow Jesus from our willingness to go through it for other relationships. It’s like Jesus’ friend John wrote, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother , he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”1 John 4:20.  The way we sustain relationships is too instinctive, and with God it’s even less accountable! The measure of how we are doing with “abiding” in Jesus is going to be seen in how we “abide” in other relationships – especially those that tend to give us a taste of the “cross”.

Finally, I want to encourage any who read this not to lose heart. I have experienced that God doesn’t waste anyone’s pain – So we don’t need to fear it – it is the furnace of our soul, and necessary for our growth. the grace and peace needed will be with you.  

Know God, Love People, Don’t Give Up!