I came across and article in Christianity Today Pastor’s newsletter, where the author described his time in the High School marching band. Because he was a tuba player, he also had to learn to play the Sousaphone. I too spent time in the marching band, however, I played a trombone, so walking or sitting, it was the same instrument. However, my tuba playing counterpart, had to learn a slightly different instrument depending on the season. The tuba he could balance on his leg or the chair he was sitting one, while the sousaphone, wrapped around him and he had to carry it wherever he went. Like me, the goal of both instruments was the same, “play clear, beautiful music, balancing appropriately with the rest of the [band]”. However, regardless of your instrument in the marching season that required some extra attention to do. Mainly, how to keep playing while walking or at times sprinting across the football field.
Why do I tell you that? The main author was not just reminiscing about his High School days, he is writing to pastors to remind them that serving Christ and his church today is going to take some adapting to what is going on around us. Let me borrow his own words: “Pastoring through changing seasons is a bit like switching between tuba and sousaphone. The goal is the same—shepherding God’s people—and the fundamental way of accomplishing that remains the same—faithfulness to God’s call. But as the people we pastor and the culture in which we pastor them change, we may have to adapt some of our methods. Not because ministry has changed in some way; precisely the opposite. Like marchers shifting their gait to stay level, we may need to reevaluate certain practices so the fundamentals of our ministry won’t waver.” (CT/Pastors Newsletter, 8/20/19)
A similar thought occurred to me several years ago while on Sabbatical, although I phrased it differently, the reality is the same. We have to remain faithful to the God who called us, but some of the methods we have used in the past may no longer work! For some of us that may feel like we have been cast adrift without a map and compass. Or that the map we have used to navigate by all our lives has suddenly become obsolete. What if, what we have held to are culturally derived maps, and have led us away, rather than closer to the plan God has for us? Let me ask that question and then you decide. However, before you think I have totally lost my mind, consider this. When God called Abraham, he told him to go to a place where God would show him! How did Abraham know where he was headed, or how would he know when he got there? The simple and yet not so simple answer is God. The Apostle Paul found the same direction when he was “redirected” when in Acts 16:9, he sees the man from Macedonia begging him to come there. Paul had been attempting to get into Asia but God kept redirecting him. I wonder, if God is not trying to redirect his people once again? Is God seeking to point his people in a new way of following him, a way that might seem foreign to those who have gone before us?
My thinking is influenced by a number of writers who have looked at what is called “Church Next”. That is kind of a loose term that describes the transition that is taking place in at least the North American context. Where Post-Modernism has swept away the comfortable place that the church has held in society in the past. In many ways, we are cast adrift without a map or compass. Only the North Star of the Word of God to guide us. Like mariners of old, we have to learn to navigate once again without the old systems to guide us. If men like Columbus, Magellan and De Gamo has stuck to the traditional methods and established realities, they would have never seen that that world is a much bigger place than anyone could imagine. (I don’t have time or space to get into the socio-political ramifications of these men’s explorations and activities). My point is that unless the Church of Jesus Christ today is willing to learn how to play the sousaphone in God’s band, we will be left behind on the culture that is overtaking us. If we refuse to accept a new style of thinking and leading people to know God and his word, then we will be relegated to the pages of history and a new movement of God will rise up to take our place.
My conviction is that church is to be and has always been about adventure! After all wasn’t it Jesus who invited us to come and follow him? Didn’t he invite 12 guys to go with him on mission without knowing exactly where they would go or what they would do? Why is it now, that we have to depend on old maps and old methods? Why are we insistent on doing what we have always done? A few years ago I wrote down this statement, that I believe has become even more true and evident today: The adventure is now to be the body of Christ in a rapidly changing world when all the categories we once knew and were comfortable with have changed almost overnight.
I don’t have any good answers, even after pondering this for the past five years or more like 10, I am still uncertain about what to do or say is the right way to go. Instead let me share what my thoughts and ideas around the question of what would happen if church were lived as an adventure?
- What would our map be? First, in this adventure there is no map, all we have is the call of God to be followers of Christ in the world today. The call to reclaim the title of people on the way. The challenge is that while we are on the way, we are not certain where that way is leading.
- What would our compass be? Or how would/should we navigate in this new and unexplored terrain? First we go back to Columbus who only knew he had to head west, but he had no map. Even further back we go to Abraham, all he had was the word, the call of God to follow me. Then Moses and the Israelites had the cloud and the pillar of fire. So today our compass is once again the call of God to follow me and once again we don’t know what our destination is. So once again it is back to the adventure and the unknown, experiencing the in between stage of not being sure where we are headed, or what will take place next.
- What are the obstacles along the path of obedience? (I wrote this while on a solo hike amidst multiple down tress on the trail) On the trail today I had to navigate over and around fallen trees on multiple occasions. As I was clamoring over one, I had to ask what are the obstacles to being open and available to following God as people on the way, as people who are seeking to develop a parallel society in the midst of the current North American atmosphere? While I could develop my own list of obstacles, I want to leave that open ended you to consider this an invitation to ask the same question.
- What are the unexpected blessings? What are the expected blessings? What might we expect or even achieve along the way? So far what we face or can enumerate are more obstacles along the way than what we see of the blessings. What are those things we should be thinking about, according to Paul in Philippians 4:8,9, “8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
You see I was a trombone player, never did quite understand those guys with the sousaphones, and I kind of envied the piccolo players. Regardless, it might well be time or past time for us to perfect our “multi-instrumental” skills, as God may well be calling for a new tune to reach a new era with the same old message of his love and grace.
If all this has created some heartache or stress in your life, maybe it is time for a wilderness sabbatical. While the summer may be over, the winter has its own beauty out here and Deb and I will be around to help you find a new trail of vitality as together we practice the sousaphone of God’s never changing grace.