The Long View, Again

kinnon —  March 1, 2009 — 6 Comments

Milton is, quite simply, one of the finest writers in blogdom. Make a point of reading the complete post from which I quote below. Milton is a musician, song writer, writer of prose and a chef. He is married to a pastor. And has a theological degree, himself.

When the artisans set the glass in the windows at Notre Dame, they knew they were building a house of worship. The building took so long to complete that the ones who started the construction were not the ones who completed the cathedral; it took almost two centuries. Whether working on the intricacies of the Rose windows, or stacking the stones for the walls, I can’t imagine any of them found it easy to grasp an image of what they were building together other than some abstract idea of a church. Once finished, it has continued to be a work in progress, requiring restoration and rebuilding due to the damage done by the wear and tear of the following centuries. Though the edifice stands as one of the most recognizable building in Paris, its art is not so much different than my nightly offerings: neither is ever completed.

We share one other thing in common (at least I hope we do): for all our effort to create something beautiful, the art itself is not the point. A restaurant is not a bad metaphor for church because the idea is to incarnate two of Jesus’ invitations: “Come and see,” and “Take and eat.” We spend a lot of energy in church making sure things are “right,” which is not all wrong, yet we have to check ourselves to make sure we have not lost sight of our calling to make a place for everyone – particularly for those who live at the margins of life.

The McChurch approach to building the Kingdom wants to set goals that are 12 months, 2 years and maybe even 5 years out. We attend conferences to tell us how to grow our churches quickly. It’s all about excellence and results-oriented leadership – getting to the “next level,” of course. The latest gurus selling us the latest techniques that may, or may not, have worked for them. We want Our Best Lives Now™ (without pork, apparently) and can even get a Bible that will help us in that quest. But this is not the Kingdom.

Imbi reminds me often, of the faithful people the writer of Hebrews speaks of in Chapter 11. A chapter that ends with these words in the poetic paraphrase of Eugene Peterson,

Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.

Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

6 responses to The Long View, Again

  1. Thanks for another prescient reminder of why we do what we do. We see as in a mirror darkly, don’t we? Too easy to focus on the here and now. We are trying in our church to get away from that, and start building for the next decade, and the decade after that, so that we are not dependent upon the vision of one leader.


  2. Hey Bill, check this out link to
    “Reaching our Culture Blah, blah, blah”
    I thought of that post as I read your post
    What do you think?

  3. George,
    You might want to sit down for this. I actually like his post (and the way he blogs). No. I don’t agree 100% with him – but I would certainly agree more than I would disagree. I too am tired of all the “conversations” if those conversations are just amongst hurt/angry believers slagging the church. Most of my friends who are involved in the “missional conversation” are engaged with their non-believing neighbours – with telling them about Jesus being of primary importance. But. Those same people will not make it a condition of their friendship that these neighbourhood friends MUST become believers in order for my friends to remain in relationship.

    The issue of bragging about numbers becomes a tricky one. In much of suburban North American culture there is still a vestige of understanding the Christian story. It becomes easier to understand Christ if you know the story. However, in urban North America, fewer and fewer people understand. We are in a post-Christendom culture. A culture we are missionaries to. I doubt Dr. Kennedy would want to be seen as slagging the low numbers of a missionary like Hudson Taylor or David Livingston – but they were planting for a long view – and we are seeing the results in our time – with the Harvest in Africa and China not only being ready – but millions of labourers engaged in it.

    So my response would be a both/and. Keep doing what Harvest is doing and seeing as many new believers as possible. Get them baptized and catechized so they can explain the reason for their faith – and actually live it out amongst the people where God has strategically placed them. Recognize that the world has changed. The church is actually shrinking in North America – and realize that this means that we need to search the Scriptures to find how we are to engage. And Paul’s approach at Mars Hills does have much to say to that – as does Jesus commands to his disciples in Luke 10.

    Hebrews 11 is not an excuse to sit back and talk. But it is a reminder that we are labourers who may never see the full fruit of our labours – yet we do not labour in vain. We have hope for the future – whether in our lifetimes or beyond.

  4. Thanks Bill

    You said: “Most of my friends who are involved in the “missional conversation” are engaged with their non-believing neighbours – with telling them about Jesus being of primary importance. But. Those same people will not make it a condition of their friendship that these neighbourhood friends MUST become believers in order for my friends to remain in relationship.”

    That’s good. I will assume very few of those friends are in the Toronto contxt.

    My experience with those in the Toronto context is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Gospel really is.

    I have been at meetings with those who would be considered the ones really engaged in missional outreach and I have checked out their ministries. Generally speaking, here is how they believe they are doing the Lord’s work – they reach out to those on the margins, if they can get Bob off the streets and into housing and help find him a job, that’s it, they’ve done what Jesus calls them to do – to reach out to the poor and those on the margins. I hear nothing about the need to be regenerated, nothing about seeing these folks become blood bought followers of Jesus Christ. That’s not a concern of theirs at all, it would seem. They never talk about that and it’s so sad really. They themselves would claim to be born again, saved followers of Jesus Christ, if you press them, but to help others to actually come to know the Savior they claim to follow is not important to them. It truly makes no sense and there is no difference between their ministries and any United Way Agency. That’s ben my experience with the so-called missional practioners in downtown Toronto.

    But God is raising people up to do a new thing
    in our city. It’s coming. Those who want to see lives truly transformed for the glory of God will latch on to something like that. To see those who have been in the pit become the trophies of God’s grace in a way that only God can do. People will take notice of something like that because only God can cause that to happen. But he uses His people to get it done. Are you in?

  5. Dear Bill,

    Ken Follet’s excellent ‘Pillars Of The Earth’ is the story surrounding the building of a cathedral whose starters never saw the finished product. Beautifully illustrates Milton’s thesis. I just bought Follet’s sequel, ‘World Without End,’ but haven’t started it yet.

    Really enjoy your blog.

    Thanks, Lee

  6. Presumably Milton is also aware of the novel by William Golding entitled ‘The Spire’ ?

    Fruitfulness is not within our purview, faithfulness is. Longevity of goal does not count for anything unless we are building up the church of Jesus Christ – and the marker of that is being faithful to the role that God has called us to.


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