Who are we?

I believe we have a choice – to be defined by Jesus or defiant against Jesus.

This weekend we had a visit from Pip n Jay’s new vicar-to-be, Rev Tim Silk. He is facing a really difficult job, taking over a church which spent over forty years under one leader, and the last two years in between leaders, wondering about who and what it is, and what it is meant to do next.

After months of speculation and uncertainty since Tim’s appointment, this was the first time most of us got to see him explain his vision and process for going forward. The big question we can expect to hear a lot is “who are we?”

I think this is genius. Tim has been very clear that he’s not after the job description labels we have been carrying around (that would be “what are we?”) So right away, this sets the expectation that things can change, not because Tim doesn’t respect who we are, but because things are not as important as people. Tim is planning to spend about a year finding out who we are each saying we are, what is in our hearts.

That sounds good, but the best is still to come. Looking further forward, “who are we?” is also the key question for people following Jesus. 

A Christian grows in many different ways, and no-one seems to take quite the same path as anyone else – we all have different starting points after all. Christians have love and concern for each other, or at least know that they should even if this is something to improve on, and it’s not uncommon to try and work out how others are getting on in their journey with Jesus.

It is quite typical for people – including church leaders – to make some sort of judgement about this based on activity. A church can be set up to do lots of stuff, and there may be a belief that Christians grow by participating in that activity – from socials to training courses and service opportunities. “What are we doing?” then becomes the key question as we plan for growth.

However, there is compelling research from Willow Creek which shows that high participation in ministry programmes does not correlate well with spiritual growth. Some growth might happen, but it’s not guaranteed by a long way. Increasing activity is not the best gauge of increasing faith or faithfulness. So what is?

“Who are we?” turns out to be a much better question, not just for measuring where we are, but also for defining an aim as we move onward. It is not a Christian’s goal to become proficient at juggling massive numbers of commitments to activities. It is our goal to become more like Christ.

Life can end up being defined by our activities, roles and responsibilities if we are not careful. “I am a discipleship group leader” or “I am a piano player”, for example. Outside of church, “I am a music consultant” also seems pretty good to me. There are obvious potential problems ahead if I lose one of those roles for some reason, perhaps beyond my control. It could lead to me questioning who I am, not just reconsidering what I do – it’s the sort of thing which leads to depression when people lose their jobs.

On the other hand, if everything I do and everything I think I am is secondary to who God says I am in Jesus, that gives me an eternal significance and much greater stability. The caveat is that, to live this fully, I have to be able to accept that anything other than my identity in Christ can change, and that might be painful. But Jesus calls us to this.

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39).

Jesus adds some good news – living this kind of life is not an isolated or pointless experience, but one which brings God into people’s lives. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Paul writes that we have to consider old life gone and new life in Jesus – “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)

This has amazing, everlasting consequences for us – defeating the power of death itself – “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4); “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Are we truly living in Christ? That is the BIG question. In order to do so, I need to be defined by him, not by my own plans, roles and ambitions. Jesus tells me that I am accepted, secure and forgiven, a member of God’s family and heir to his eternal kingdom. (Best summary ever – from Freedom In Christ)

I’m not really sure why I would want to defy that and go my own way – I probably like my own ideas a bit too much! I might also be confusing the love God has for who we are (who he has made us to be) with the things I call love, which might only be for what people do for me.

What I do know is that I want to love more like Jesus, and be defined by his love for me.

(I made the mosaic image at a day conference called “Imaging God” in June 2009 at Saint Stephens Church, Bristol – the main source image is a sculpture of Jesus at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, Melbourne, photo cc licensed by flickr.com user mugley)

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