Saturday, April 20, 2013

Horizontal or Vertical

You know how it is.  When you think you have heard it all, someone shows up to say it in a new and different way.  Such is what James Macdonald did for me as I read his book, "Vertical Church."  His book is built on humanity's need to encounter and experience a transcendent God.  It is the one thing we need; it is the one thing not found if it is looked for anywhere except in the church; and, tragically enough, it is the one thing often impossible to find in today's church.  Macdonald contends it is almost impossible to find because the church of our day is the Horizontal Church.  The Horizontal Church is the one which places doing whatever is necessary to attract people above all else.  It is the one which would rather be seen as relevant to people around it than one which seeks first of all to glorify God.  The Horizontal Church discovers that "shallow converts can't be discipled because that requires breaking the 'me-first' contract."  All of this comes out of the author's conviction that the core of humanity's sin problem is not horizontal behavior to be corrected, but a Vertical relationship to be restored.
It is a book which has caused this retired preacher to do a second read.  At this stage of the game, there are those moments of asking yourself, "Did I get it right?  Did I do it right?  If I were doing it again, what would I do that would be different from what I did?"  Sometimes the answers that come are not easy to swallow and even harder to digest.   To reflect back over what has been is to admit that there were too many times when I got too caught up with the horizontal stuff which seems to be such a driving force for the church today.  But, there were also moments when I realized that I managed to get it right because God was determined to work through me and sometimes despite me.  Perhaps, this is more the experience of the preacher than we realize as we are engaged in the work.
Regardless of our take on what Macdonald and others like him are saying, going on with a business as usual attitude is not going to get us or the church we love anywhere except where it is.  And if we do not know it, surely, God knows that it needs to be something other than what it is in too many places.  Maybe pursuing with holy passion the glorious presence of God in our weekly gatherings would take us closer to where God wants us to be.  Such a pursuit would at least cause us to arrive on Sundays with a different set of expectations.

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