All week, we have been talking about how the church is like a string of Christmas lights.
We are designed to bring light into darkness. We are only as bright as our weakest bulb. We are made breathtaking only by our red-tipped leader (Jesus). We get tangled from time to time. We must have the grace and patience to untangle ourselves to bear witness into the world. And there's one more thing I want to add:
We were made to be connected together.
This is true on two levels. First, it is true in terms of our individual churches. Within them, we were made for one another. We were made to be connected. There's no such thing as a single Christmas light; it's always connected to others. Christmas lights come as a string. By design.
It's also true in terms of the network of churches across time and place. None of us were made to do this on our own.
We get into this really bad habit of thinking of our personal churches as "the" church. As the one church. As the best church, maybe. We think that what we do has to be all-sufficient for all of our members, at least, and also for our community. We do our best to make ourselves one-stop shops for whatever someone might be looking for as relates to Jesus or grace or community or healing or whatever.
As a result, a lot of churches are overextending themselves...and failing. They are trying to do too much or trying to do something that's not really in their unique DNA to do, and it isn't working for them. And it isn't working for anyone else. And then, they wonder why their church is struggling so much.
It's not that the church is struggling; it's that it simply doesn't have enough light to reach all of the darkness.
No one hangs up one string of Christmas lights and is satisfied. No, we string them together and plug them in end-to-end-to-end until we have covered every inch of the tree...and the fireplace...and the doorway...and the porch...and the sidewalk...and the eaves....and everything in lights. We plug them into each other because we know that the power flows from one to the next to the next to the next; we don't have to plug them all into an outlet.
And yet, that's exactly what we're trying to do so often with the church. This church should be plugged into Jesus. And that church should be plugged into Jesus. And that other church over there should be plugged into Jesus. And we should all do our own thing, all plugged into Jesus. (And yes, of course, every church should be plugged into Jesus. I'm not trying to say that's a bad thing.) But we can't all be doing our individual thing all the time. We were designed to be plugged into each other. That's why there's a plug on both ends.
It's so taboo, and I don't know why, when a member of one church attends an event at another church. Or partners with a ministry outside their own walls. Why? Why do we care so much? (We care so much because we have become invested in our own little thing and we worry about our financial security and our "numbers" - as if that's what is the most important measure of a church. Oh, by the way, it's not.)
Jesus doesn't care. Jesus is glad when He sees us working together to meet the needs of those He's given us, even those who "belong" to one place or another or whatever. Jesus is glad when we plug ourselves in end-to-end and expand our reach and magnify our light. Jesus is glad when we work together. It's what we were created for.
It's why the Cross is vertical and horizontal. We were created with plugs on both ends.
Yes, the church is like a string of Christmas lights. In oh, so many ways.
I think Paul himself would approve of the metaphor.