It was one of the hairier moments in an otherwise enjoyable holiday. We had missed the freeway exit we ought to have taken for our next destination, so the logical choice seemed to be taking the next exit and working our way across to the road we had just missed. But it did not work out quite as expected. We found ourselves in one of the more dangerous sections of downtown L.A. As we drove through the streets, one could hardly overlook the heavily shuttered windows on shops, the preponderance of graffiti on walls and windows, and the range of activities we had not seen in our journeys before. The city closed in around us, its darkness intimidating and overwhelming. I’m sure our eyes widened as our sensitivities heightened, realising that we had entered a strange culture, not sure where we were heading or how to get there. It was as though we had entered an entirely different world to the one in which we had been spending our time. One significant educational moment about our world.
As we seek to explore church life “off the map” – moving away from the well-worn and traditional model of church life, we are likely to be surprised and at times shocked by the experiences we encounter. While we agree that there are many things about traditional church life which we do not like, and want to leave behind, there are others which offer us a sense of security and support in following Jesus. In leaving the established path, we do not have absolute control over what we leave behind, nor of what we might encounter in the journey ahead. We will encounter things about life, and about ourselves which we never imagined to be true. We will be given cause to pause and question the path we have taken, and wonder where the journey will lead us. Security as we know it is gone.
Tensions can run high when our journey enters unknown territory. Pressure is placed on the navigator. The driver looks for instructions. Others in the vehicle feel a heightened sense of fear and dread, along with an acute sense of adventure. But while the group recognises their joint venture, and supports one another, the journey can be sustained in a healthy manner.
As we begin this new year of ministry, this metaphor lives in my thinking. In many senses it is a modern image of discipleship. I hope, pray, and will endeavour to work in such a way that this journey into a different model of church, and a healthier style of spirituality is sustained and shaped by the community as a whole.
I am looking forward to sharing the next step of the journey together.
February 2, 2003