I was on holiday in a little village whose name I can’t remember. I wandered around their wee museum as an alternative to the shops. A particular item in the exhibition caught my eye: it had been found in a bog in the 1960s and was the pride and joy of the local history society. As I say, I can’t remember the name of the village, so I will call their prize exhibit “The Nazarene Bag”. To my untrained eye, it just looked like a very old and very disgusting piece of water-damaged leather. What interested me about the bog bag was its history since it had been found and dug up. The archaeologist who had found it had dated it and identified it as an ancient bag, and that was how it had been displayed ever since.
But 30 years later an ancient bag expert came a-visiting and started asking questions about that lump of still-leaking leather. They discovered holes that looked like button holes, and to everyone’s amazement and shock, their rare bag turned out to be, in fact, a very rare leather jacket!
That is what caught my eye. The Nazarene Bag was in fact The Nazarene Jacket. Nothing had changed: the piece of leather was still the same piece of leather. It was just that they had learned to look at it differently.
When we explore a Jesus-shaped church, it’s an exercise in “looking differently” – assessing what we do and not assuming that we have it right. Let me give you two examples:
- It’s right that we meet weekly as a fellowship, but why does it have to be on a Sunday between 10 and 12? Could our fellowship time be on a school night, at a meal time? And instead of coffee and a biscuit, why not over a meal? After all, so many of our church members eat alone, so why can’t church be based around a meal at a different time and on a different day of the week?
- It’s right that we worship, but why does it have to be five hymns, two prayers and a monologue? Cafe Church, Messy Church and Fresh Expressions all show us that there are other, more ancient ways of doing worship. Why have we assumed that church has to be an hour of the hymn-prayer sandwich?
We might be being asked by Jesus to recognise that what we have named worship, church is, in fact, a pale example of what they should be. We need to have the courage of a little museum in a village whose name I can’t remember, and put up a sign that reads, “We used to think it was this … but we got it wrong, and this is how we should see it now!”