I grew up as the world was getting smaller. Dirt cheap air travel was a thing, communities became less homogeneous, and the Digital Revolution networked us all, a wider world emerging into our lives through our phone line. Nowadays even that phone line is less important.
The funny thing is, churches were always ahead of this game, at least theoretically. ‘The Global Village’ may have been the iconic phrase, but the idea of the Church as a worldwide, universal, interconnected body is baked into the New Testament. It’s a different metaphor but it’s no less powerful.
Powerful. That’s an interesting word, because I think we lost some of the impact of that metaphor. Some of our churches got too powerful, too comfortable, too safe. We remembered that we were connected, but we lost a sense of being interconnected.
Maybe that came out most clearly in our approach to mission. We would go out to countries with fewer resources, with pressing needs, and contribute time and many and support. None of this is bad, as long as it’s done in the right way, but too often it can be a one-way street – we’ve got it all sorted, so we’ll go out and help those who aren’t so sorted. And while that gets walls painted and bills paid, I’m not sure that does much for our humility. We see ourselves as doctors fixing someone else’s body and lose the idea that this is actually self-care, that the body that’s being healed is our own.
And so we have a one-way network, a radio transmitter more than an Internet. And so we support missions, but the relationships aren’t always there, we aren’t always learning from each other, photocopied newsletters are pinned unread to our noticeboards because they don’t represent relationships that are integral to our community – to our Body.
So how do we make this a two-way street? Maybe more people need to go on mission trips with learning mindsets than fixing mindsets, but that still feels more transactional than relational. Maybe this is about budgets – spend some mission cash on bringing people to our churches and yes, learn from their experiences and knowledge and expertise, but also build relationships, have meals together, pray together, then talk about how our kids are doing. We’re a body, a family by blood,,but that blood is not our own and we should remember that every time we take the bread and wine.
So, while this isn’t always possible, and I know this is a privileged thought, why not think about how to Skype in mission partners to preach or do readings or for their children to take part in the nativity or share communion (or vice versa)? Are there connections that can be established via diaspora communities? Are there implications for our politics? What can we do to make our interactions relational rather than transactional?
Because the church is a body, is a network, and if we don’t act like it, the church will be weakened. We need to see ourselves as connected. We need to see ourselves as interdependent. We need to see each other as family, not just relatives. We need to see ourselves as one.