Church in an Airplane




If you’re going to be in relationship with someone, being present is important. It sounds kind of ridiculous to say that, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t it assumed that relationships involve presence? I guess we‘d have to define “relationship” then, wouldn’t we?

I’ve learned that relationships of substance involve not only the exchange of ideas, but also shared experiences. This happens through intentionally being involved in one another’s lives over time. But I’ll admit, this kind of deep relationship is not the only form of relationship we have.

We have whole categories of relationships that would have been impossible just a hundred years ago. We have relationships with people through technology where we exchange ideas, stories, pictures, without ever sharing space in the same place. This blog isn’t going to be an anti-social media rant (I’ll save that for another post), but I think it’s worth noting different types of interactions we might categorize as a relationship.

For a long time, I think the church has tried to form relationship with people mainly through exchanging information and apart from vulnerability. To see that most people in our city want nothing to do with the church is not surprising to me (I spent most of my life feeling the same way). If we are honest, the church has sent a lot of confusing messages to people when perhaps a better way, the way of Jesus, might be to simply be with people.

Messages on signs or banners that say, “Repent and believe,” “Jesus is the answer,” etc., while true, speak a louder message simply by how they are being communicated. Marshall McLuhan famously stated that “the medium is the message.” Heeding his words would breath fresh life into those of us who desire to extend the freedom and family of Jesus to those who don’t follow him yet. Let me explain.

Proclaiming truth to people, while valuable, already speaks something in the process. Basically, the message is, “We have the answers and you don’t. You must change so you can be like us.” Listen, that may be what you believe and it may actually be true, but is that a posture of love and grace? I mean, aren’t we who follow Jesus able to relate to the brokeness and hopelessness of not following Jesus? Did we awaken to the invitation to dine with Jesus because we gathered enough information alone?

And some might respond, “We live in an information age, our responsibility to to proclaim truth.”

To which I would reply, “Yes, and we are free to love the way Jesus did.” I mean, Jesus, being God, probably could have just had some permanent skywriting put up saying, “Stop doing all that! Turn to me. Or else.”

But that wasn’t the way Jesus shared his message of freedom and family. Not even close.

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14, The Message)

Jesus, as a man, moved into our neighborhood to embody the message of love and proclaim it in both word and deed, with his very life.

As followers of Jesus, we are freed up to be present with people, just like he was. Scripture says that we are Jesus’ ambassadors, making an appeal for him through how we love and live and speak.

I recently heard a follower of Jesus challenge a large room full of pastors with these words:

“Have the people on your block seen the face of Christ, heard the voice of Christ, touched Christ in His people? For most churches, we are so disconnected from relationships we might as well meet in an airplane.”

That imagery has stuck with me. I don’t want to be part of the church-in-an-airplane, comfortably enjoying truth as we fly over those Jesus loves. I want to be on the ground with them.

By God’s grace, I get to be part of church-in-the-neighborhood, made up of people who live on the ground amongst people of all different view and beliefs, whom we get to love and serve together, demonstrating and declaring who Jesus is and what he has done.

May it be that The Table Philadelphia is not a passing banner telling people what life is like “up here,” but rather a family digging into life together, for the good of others and the glory of God -- present in the neighborhood.