As Paul says, “the kingdom of God is not about talk, but power.” Indeed. I am of the opinion that there is no place where the gospel becomes more practical than in matters related to power.
I want to quickly follow that declaration with the assertion that for Paul, “the word of the cross” is the power of God. Paul knows that for many this looks like foolishness or weakness. And I think that even for many Christians, both then and now, power is defined in ways that don’t conform to the word of the cross. It doesn’t occur to us that self-giving love manifest in humility or kindness or gentleness or self-control is power, godly power.
Instead, we think of God’s power as power over, as control. We equate sovereignty or rule with control. But this is not the way that God saves his creation. Instead, God transforms things through faith, hope, and love. He doesn’t get his way through coercion or manipulation, but invites us all into a new future through constant acts of self-giving love. (Which we would do well to remember in this election season). This kind of power brings peace.
Power is also a practical category. It is demonstrated in a field of action, as we do things together or with others. And I am convinced that in church life this shows up most clearly in processes, even in the routines that define congregational life. It’s not the only place where power, Christian power, shows up in congregational life. It is in my estimation, however, an often overlooked part of congregational life that reveals a lot about what we think constitutes power, Christian behavior, and even the church.
I am not a good golfer. I have been told that I have a beautiful practice swing. But I can’t trust my “easy” practice swing to get the job done. When I actually address the ball, I become a coil of rage that won’t be satisfied unless I kill the ball. From what I understand about the golf swing, by swinging harder at the top I lose power through the hitting zone. And I definitely lose control. I think a lot of churches and church leaders lose power somewhere in the air because they don’t pay sufficient attention to how the practical life of the church is expressed in processes.
And it is my contention that the processes in a congregation’s life should reflect what we believe about what God has accomplished in the cross of Jesus.