Jeremiah 23: 1-4 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. 2 Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.”
We have heard alarming reports about the continued decline of the numbers of Christians in our churches in Sweden through tidningen Dagen. As I indicated before as passed on the statistics during the Pionjär 2008 conference which we hosted in our church on behalf of a number of different denominations, I am not overcome by these statistics.
I consider this process where (finally) the official figures start to portray a more realistic picture of reality as a blessing! Dead wood is removed from the forest.
I cannot refrain from thinking of the scripture in Jeremiah 23 where the word of the Lord speaks against the shepherds of Israel who have been destroying and scattering the sheep. The shepherds were accused of not caring for the sheep; thus the scattering and alienation of them. It reminds me of our present state of Christianity in Sweden; more and more leaders have opened “their” churches (as if they belonging to them and not Christ!) to anyone. It is important we hear that the church is to be accessible for all those who want to get in. It is important to be seeker-friendly. It is important to be having low thresholds. It is important there is room for everybody! This is like trying to go back to the idea of the “Folkskyrkan” – or Christendom!
Those of you who know me and know of New Life Church in Stockholm where I a one of the pastors can confirm how we from the very start of this church in 1993 have tried to be a low-threshold church. As our short history shows; we have truly become a place of refuge and a haven for many whom in many cases would not put their foot in a church. They feel accepted, they feel they can belong, they can be themselves and time is given for them to grow into a conscious Christian faith.
While having low thresholds for visitors and those curious enough to give us “a chance”, we have maintained a rather high threshold for membership. If our responsibility is to care for the sheep as is mentioned in Jeremiah 23, we need to apply a different kind of leadership and example then mentioned in that chapter. We have to care for the sheep. We have to create a save, secure and yet challenging environment where individuals and the church as a whole can grow into the purposes which God has for His Church, which is to be a light to the world! This implies clarity about what it means to belong to this body of believers which is called “Church”. It must mean that we are clear what people can expect within that Body and what the foundational values are. A friend of mine passed on the following quote which since then I have used many times in regards to the kind of “Body Life” in the local church that we endorse:
Stanley Hauwerwas says: “Christians, to be more specific, do not believe that we have a right to do with our bodies whatever we want. We do not believe that we have a right to our bodies because when we are baptized we become members of one another; then we can tell one another what it is that we should, and should not, do with our bodies.
I had a colleague at the University of Notre Dame. He was Jewish and always said that any religion that does not tell you what to do with your genitals and pots and pans cannot be interesting.
That is exactly true. In the Church we tell you what you can and cannot do with your genitals. They are not your own. They are not private. That means that you cannot commit adultery. If you do, you are no longer a member of”us”. Of course pots and pans are equally important.”
I realize that the kind of Christianity which results from a praxis of the above demands Christ-followership rather than Christendom! Therefore, for now I say death to Christendom, life again to the remnant of the people who have not yet been overcome by the agenda of our world! (Romans 12: 1-3)
That’s the Way I see it!