Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Back in the day, and I mean way back, I was given a tripod and transit and sent out to do some surveying. I was never very good at it, at least not as good as I should have been to be a professional surveyor and fortunately for the world of construction I left that field for another. However my lack of aptitude was a result of my lack of skill and focus and in no way should be laid at the feet of the time tested tripod which even today serves as a practical and reliable means of supporting delicate instruments whether they be used in the field of surveying or photography. All of which brings me to what I believe the Spirit is telling me about the much discussed decline in Quaker membership in some of its more traditional areas.
I believe the Spirit is saying that for our Society to prosper it needs to rest on its own tripod. We must recognize that any prospering church ( church refering to a body of believers not a building) is more than a well oiled organization. It is a living organism with various body parts all contributing their various gifts to the body (A jewish pharisee wrote something about this relationship years ago). As a living organism it is as delicate an instrument as any man made optical device and must sit on as stable a foundation as possible. Now as a Christian it's easy for me to just say that that foundation is Jesus - the Rock of my salvation. However that is not explicit enough for even the christians among us and certainly not for the many meetings who's members prefer not to be classified by their individual members' personal beliefs. So let me share what I believe I'm hearing.
The three parts of our spiritual tripod are identity, community and mission.
Every individual meeting must settle on exactly what it's identity is. You have to know what and who you are and be comfortable with who you. Once you know who you are you can tell others who you are and those who can identifty with you will have a comfort level that will encourage them to "taste and see". But few stable people are going to buy a pig in a poke.
Again every meeting must become a community. Being a community is what makes a group of people a church fellowship and not a building. It's what sends forth that feeling of love and caring that visitors can sense and what allows the Spirit to linger with a body. It's the difference between a solid wood musical instrument and a plastic musical instrument. Not only is it capable of making musical notes but each note made is sustained by the resonance of the material. Think of a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone.
And finally the third and final leg that a living meeting needs is a mission. Each individual meeting needs to find it's own mission. If a meeting is to be a light on a hill or the salt of the earth it needs an area to light or salt. I don't mean adhering to a general testimony such as Peace or Simplicity. I mean a specific mission for your neighborhood. A soup kitchen. A real prision ministry that helps raise bail, support prisoners' families and assists those who have served time in getting back into the job market. A mission that springs out of being a community that knows who and what it is.
If you have ever used a tripod you know you have to set its legs one at a time. So it is with this spiritual tripod. I believe each meeting is different. In some cases the meeting's identity might be established by its mission which arose from its location or the vision of a spirit led member, and its sense of community is a result of working together to achieve the goals of its mission. In another, a meeting might draw it's identity from the gifts of its members and a community might grow around those gifts and a mission might come from that community's natural desire to reach out as birthed by the Spirit. And in still another, a meeting that has met for years with its members being there for one another through good times and bad might sit down and discuss where they have come from and where they are and reach a conclusion of who and what they are and from that see their gifts and strengths and decide to reach out to those outside their community in an area that they see as a natural place for them to light or salt.
The bad news is that we can't write a check or draw up a program or bible study that will give our meeting our own spiritual tripod. The good news is we don't have to. We just have to be honest with ourselves, openly discuss where we believe our meeting is in these areas and pray that a way open to set our meeting on it's own tripod. I read somewhere that if we ask we shall receive.