Church must be outdoors not in enclosed arenas where fans meet for performances

Machakos County Governor Wavinya Ndeti addresses the faithful during a church service at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Cathedral church in Machakos town on August 28, 2022.  [John Muia, Standard]

To the challenge of identity crisis, the church must name itself based on its mission and intended impact in the present times. A rudderless church takes its members in circles. It is obsessed with its own expansion. It has a low capacity for external pressure and is easily frightened.

Naming provides a basis for members and the community to base their expectations. It is introspection that yields articulation. Identity is informed by both divine inspiration and a deliberate discernment process. A known identity cures the problem of cluelessness, blindness and shakiness.

That times have changed is inescapable. That the church must effect intense changes to its approaches is uncomfortable but unavoidable.

The world is getting brainy and scientific. Institutions will more and more need to place thinkers at the forefront. The church cannot insist on being simplistic. The church will need persons of faith who speak professional languages fluently. These thinkers will need to be in strategic positions where critical conversations are held and decisions made.

Without strategic positioning, important decisions will be made with the church absent. Bereanism –positive interrogation of scriptures - will be the desired characteristic of the entire church. A sharpened philosophy of faith-based things will be essential so that lines of argument and premises of thought are clear. While preaching will remain a critical ministry, preachers must develop a thinking side because there are essential forums that will be accessible not by preaching alone but by thought credibility. 

Thinkers and labs

In an era of innovation, the church cannot play a spectator. There is enough reason for the church to erect a physical laboratory. The lab will be a research unit, idea generator and solution tester. Church laboratories will become go-to places where church leaders can seek and find solutions for the ministry-related challenges. They will be the question takers.

They will also provide helpful projections on various faith dimensions. Leaders then will shift from ministry by imagination to ministry by information. Some may find the theo-lab as a farfetched idea but it will not be long before the lab becomes their friend. To the extent that the church is an institution, it needs to adopt all supportive formations to gain a meaningful standing. Of all things, it cannot be alien to the language and experience of innovation.

Nothing stops an institution like the church from developing and engaging an economic model amongst its constituents. The only thing that stops it is self-imposed boundaries of public duty. That bottom-up is the approach proposed by the new administration does not in any way ban solution-based thinking. Thinking must continue.  The government-sponsored approach is not meant to be the only model. There is no caveat placed on other lawful approaches that can contribute to the equation of fullness of life for Kenya’s people. Insights into the economic question have not been postponed until the next election.

For the longest time, chamas have supported families and rescued them at critical points. The chama concept has grown organically without interruption by incoming or outgoing governments.  It has grown to the extent that financial institutions now notice and recognize it enough to create targeted products. It is a huge system, yet has no control centre. Islam’s sharia banking runs comfortably in the midst of other government instituted economic formulas. 

Given this, the church should not resign to the economic formula of the winning political party. There is a lot of space to have its own solution to the question of the economic dimension of abundant life.  The church is in no way short of economics gurus amongst its followership. With experts as part of its flock, the church is a ready front for innovation on wealth creation and debt alleviation. What about, say, a love centered neighbour-oriented economic model?

State officers laugh at church leaders when they witness their desperate tactics to befriend sitting leaders. A clergy man or woman’s sale of the blood-earned prophetic status for several millions amounts to betrayal.  It amounts to legalising a “den of thieves” as the official status of the church. This error stems from a tattooing in the psyche of sections of the church that make them see politicians as the custodians of big money needed to help church projects. The church needs to be saved from this shallow thinking. This theory stands on quick sand. The church can raise whatever amount of money it requires in full without disturbing the politician’s pocket. This can be done. It has been done.

Indoor church is controllable

There is evidence of churches that meet all their bills and finish all their building projects without having to knock at a single politician’s door. Church leaders impressed by power accord politicians a status in the church that later comes to haunt them. It is either the church gets its fundraising strategy right or endures patiently its seasons of poverty. This is the cure for politician-dependency. The church must check itself into a rehab to detox from its politician addiction. The withdrawal effects, however severe, are worth persevering. One anticipated characteristic of a church living “clean” is regaining the Nathan honesty which tells the king without hesitation: “You are the thief.”

It was unlikely that prostitutes would come to the synagogues. Demon possessed persons with their stage five impurity would not be allowed even near the Temple. Religious leaders would be at their role-play best in the synagogues. They showed their true colours when off duty.  No wonder Jesus spent most time in the community and very little time in the synagogue. He preferred to spend time where life was raw, away from the veneer of temple-invoked piety. An indoor church is likely to be way more controllable. The liturgy is followed to the letter and everyone displays temple-manners to some degree. Preachers are not welcomed to the altar or to the pulpit but are welcome to the “stage.” It is a performance, isn’t it?

But however glamorous the indoor church, there are people who will never come to church. Like Legion. Like Lazarus in the tomb. Like the woman with the issue of blood. The indoor church will never replace the outdoor church. Indoors, the church is often photoshopped with rhyme and rhythm. Outdoors the church faces raw life. It meets people in the quarry of their stories. Raw church needs raw power.

As Moses would tell us, outdoors is about whose snake swallows whose. Elijah would say it is not only about the God who answers by fire, but also the one who ends a drought. Church-by-walking-around defies replicated liturgies. Unlike the “air-conditioned” church, the outdoor church feels the heat that melts pre-determined liturgies! Martyrdom is unlikely to happen in an indoor arena where fans gather for a performance of their favourite pastor. Hostility is most likely to happen outdoors – like at Calvary.

The church today is found mostly where Jesus was only occasionally. This comfort must be abandoned. Christians must head where Jesus mostly is – on the streets. Only a church familiar with the streets can knowledgeably and authoritatively stand up for the people. As it speaks, it does not rely on hearsay because It lives where the people live!