Over the last month I have been transcribing a lot of conference calls at work. We are gearing up for a huge summit at which they will be attempting to set the agenda for research in Urology over the next several years.
Transcribing a conference call entails me sitting in on the call and recording it. Then later, with notes in hand, listening to the conversation in slow motion (so everyone sounds drunk) and typing like a mad fiend to produce a word for word record of what was said. The calls are made up of five to ten doctors, advocates, and industry reps, all of whom are experts in a certain area of urology. They throw around a lot of insider jargon. Usually I don’t understand what they are talking about.
But there is one thing I have understood, “Defining normal.”
It has come up in almost every call, “We need to define normal.” You see, all the experts ever look at is dysfunction. They only get involved when stuff is messed up. They haven’t ever intensely studied a normal bladders, prostates, urethras, etc… Now they all have this deep desire to look at normal stuff so they can better diagnosis dysfunction.
This has hit home in two ways…
First, when I talk about the church I have some basic ideas about normal, but I can’t summarize it in a few sentences and explain why. I grew up in the dysfunction of the institutional church. Don’t misunderstand, I love that dysfunction and am a product of it.
That is the problem. I am a product of it.
What I believe about church has come from rejecting certain aspects of the dysfunction and redefining those aspects through the study of scripture. For example, it didn’t feel right that “church” should be defined as a building, location, or inistitution. So I went to scripture and authors smarter than me and found that “church” is a movment of people. It is not a “what.” It is a “who.”
What other misconceptions about “church” are lurking in my understanding that I have not yet uncovered? Defining “normal” is going to become a new goal of mine. Over the next several months I’m going to attempt to look through the narrative of scripture and search for the basics. What is it God wants of His people? Before cultural influence determines structure, what are the people of God supposed to be about? What does it mean to be the “church?” If I come up with anything interesting I will share.
Second, I was talking with my mom this weekend and something hit me. We were discussing “church.” Specifically, how what Wendy and I are doing is radically different from the institutional expressions of church she has grown up in and now participates in. She really wants to see the institution she is a part of become more like what Wendy and I are doing, but she is not sure it would ever feel right to her.
It made we ponder, if Wendy and I are successful at changing people’s definition of “normal” for church; if those around begin to see and practice that “normal” for the church defines the church as a “who” not a “where” or “what,” will it ever feel “normal?” I’m not sure it will. I think part of me, a part in the dark recesses of my thoughts that I am trying to put to death, will always relate “church” to the institution.
As my mom and I continued to discuss this I looked across our living room and saw Logan (my two year old) playing on the floor with some old wooden puzzles. A new passion came over me. I may always have remnants of the institution lurking in my mind, but he will not. Defining church as a movement may always be something that I have to actively work to do; but I want it to be natural for my kids. When they think of “church” I want them to think “who” not “what” without hesitation. I want the institution to feel strange for them.
We are not redefining church for ourselves. We are doing it for the next generation so that they don’t have the same struggles we do.