A Simple Spiritual Truth about Church

If you’ve ever watched an iPhone commercial you’ve probably been enamored by the amazing photos and videos you could be taking if you had one. During introductory keynotes, Apple CEO Tim Cook goes on at length about the amazing technology, innovations like focus pixels, and other features once found only in much larger, professional, cameras. Apple has even dedicated a page to the iPhone camera on their website. In all actuality, it is amazing technology.

Some creative professionals were less than enthused by the slick marketing campaign that accompanied the latest iPhones. The Shot on iPhone 6 billboards that appeared in cities around the world featured breathtaking photography that was, technically, shot on the new devices. This marketing, which suggested that one only needs an iPhone 6 to do the same, inspired a viral, Also Shot on iPhone 6, guerilla campaign featuring photos more typically shot by iPhone owners; a somewhat creepy series of selfies.

These creative professionals testify to the truth that it is deliberate practice which separates the wheat from the chaff.

I’ve written before about the need to see the church as a platform and not as a product. What this guerrilla campaign brings into focus is the truth that, on a certain level, a tool is only as good as the individual using it. Put an iPhone with the latest optics and image processing in the hands of a professional photographer (with optimal lighting conditions and carefully chosen locations) and you can get truly beautiful captures. But put the same iPhone in the hands of the average person (with less control over lighting/location because, reality) and you end up with photos that are more pedestrian by far.

So what does this mean for the church?

We like to think of, and attempt to market, church in a similar way. Just outside of Seattle there is a large, evangelical church which sends out beautifully designed flyers that always feature a real family that attends regularly. I have no reason to doubt that the featured families really do attend the church, but I’m always skeptical of their stereotypical perfection (blemish-free man, woman, two kids, dog or cat) and happiness. The thinly veiled suggestion is that attending this church will do the same for you. In my experience, real families are usually messier (and more beautifully diverse) than the picture presents.

But it isn’t just church marketing that is to blame. As people living in a consumer culture, we are often guilty of looking to the church to deliver things we need to do for ourselves. The pervasive discomfort with complexity and ambiguity in faith matters is but one piece of evidence that too many Christians today are locked into one of the lower stages of Fowler’s faith spectrum. This is a direct byproduct of a consumer-driven spirituality.

As an amateur photographer, I know just enough about camera gear and photographic techniques to be dangerous. Photography is a great hobby to have because you can look back and see regular progress, develop your own style, and grow in understanding just enough (a few months later) to realize that that style was actually a creative dead end.

I’ve experienced my spiritual growth and development in much the same way. While some crash courses (seminary) helped me to get a jump start on some of the terminology, any real progress I make is the result of the work I put in. When I wrestle with hard questions, and inhabit uncomfortable space, I am rewarded with depth and insight. When I choose to avoid these things, I grow comfortable and spiritually unfit.

The best church in the world is, at best, the equivalent of the latest iPhone. While a great camera can be helpful, it can also become a false comfort and an under utilized tool. Despite all of their challenges, many churches continue to do some good things in the world.

This leaves us with three great questions to ponder:
  1. What could a church accomplish if it was filled with disciples as spiritually adept as professional photographers are at capturing stunning images?
  2. What picture would God have us take, collectively and individually, if we were truly seeking expertise in the craft of discipleship?
  3. What are the features needed today for the church that is focused on equipping and empowering skilled disciples?

Image Credit:Also Shot on iPhone 6” Tumblr

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