Over lunch in central Romania, across the table from a Hungarian church planter named Josef, I heard someone describe ways the church of North America. It was a conversation whose context helped make it profoundly unforgettable.
The subject of our conversation was the speed and complexity of change facing the church in former Soviet-bloc countries. While people in the U.S. often feel perplexed by the undertow of tidal change within our culture, these eastern-bloc countries have experienced change in the past 15 years that took us 75 years. Yet, his comments have direct application for us.
Josef’s comments, “so much of the time, the church is like people inside a one-room building who are busy rearranging the furniture but ignoring the real question. The fact is, we are ignoring the fact that we are still in a one-room building and nothing has changed. We are so busy with church activities that everyone is worn out and we aren’t bringing about real change. The church of Hungary is typically irrelevant to thepeople and life of our country.”
I fell in love with this man. He is culturally and organizationally astute. For years he ran an international import-export business and resisted God’s prompting to become a pastor. In his words, “I never wanted to become a pastor. They are poor, they have large families, and they are generally irrelevant.”
What’s my point? Moving the furniture around creates a busyness that masquerades as change, but it isn’t. The man sitting at a bar with his friend are not talking about the longing of their souls for a local church that is using PowerPoint and video clips. We live in a world that perceives the church as irrelevant and self-absorbed-at best. The world around us is looking for a church that will move outside its walls and into relationship with messy people and hurting world.
I don’t know about you, but as for me and my house, we will be those who give themselves to a new day for the church.
Twice during my recent trip to Romania I had the same fascinating conversation. However, it happened two different times with two different ministry leaders. While asking about the changes that have taken place since the revolution in 1989, everyone I spoke with described the dizzying speed and substance of change that has taken place throughout Romania. However, two of the pastors I was with described a downside of these changes you won’t hear much of in America.
One of them, Valentin, told me about growing up in extreme poverty. There were many times he and his family had no food to eat at all. He and his brother shared the very same set of clothes and thus could only go out in public one at a time. Then Valentin told me about his concern for his own children these days. He said, “my children have no idea what it means to go without food. Sometimes they complain when we didn’t serve bread during a meal. I look at them and worry, they have no idea what it is to have no food at all.”
Another one of these leaders expressed it this way, “my children and their generation have it so good, they have no idea what it is to suffer. I am worried that because they haven’t suffered they don’t how to sacrifice. They don’t know about the privilege and power and life-shaping impact of sacrifice. I worry we might have a generation of leaders in the church that doesn’t know how to make sacrifices.”
They speak of a life and a value system that sounds foreign to a western ear. We are busy worrying about how to provide everything our children need. They are worried about the downside of having all your needs met. We worry about how to keep our children and families safe and comfortable. They are concerned that without knowing how to sacrifice your soul is somehow short-changed.
Sacrifice is not the pathway to less, it is the way to fulfillment, meaning, impact and more. In many situations, the path to healing and wholeness runs right through the valley of sacrifice. These leaders have lived there and they see in the eyes of their children the downsides of the very comfort we seek.
Maybe the path to healing of our culturally reinforced addiction to acquisition, to a life of meaning and mission, travels through the very suffering and sacrifice we typically avoid.