From Dr. Craig Mattson, elder at Redemption Church
Last week, we and some friends canvassed our Midlothian neighborhood, inviting folks to Redemption Church for a visit. We found that handing people a flyer and asking the simple question, “So, do you have a church in your background?” got them out on their porch and talking. Most people were at least willing to chat about the church they used to go to. But one guy’s response in particular has stuck with me. “Everybody needs something,” he said, with a grin, “Some people need church. Not me. I’ve got other things.”
I didn’t really have a good response at the time. (The next morning at church, talking with Antonio and Wayne and Michael gave me some better ideas for next time, though!) But it made me wonder how we at Redemption Church can talk about our project with people who have “other things” giving their lives importance and meaning.
The question of what makes a life significant is a question that moral philosopher Susan Wolf has taken up in her recent book, Meaning in Life and Why It Matters. Wolf is an extraordinarily clear thinker and communicator. But if you’re like me, you’ll come away from her book with a strong sense that meaningfulness is a tricky subject in late-modern society.
Some people say that the best judge of meaningfulness is your passions. Follow your heart. Listen to your life. Check your gut. And, you know, there’s wisdom in all that. But as Wolf points out, people can follow their hearts straight into some smallish living. I might bingewatch Netflix night after night—and feel passionately committed to my shows—but it’s hard to admire that as a significant way of life.
I have a strong hunch (based on a lifetime of consuming pop psychology and commercial advertisements) that other people would judge a project meaningful only if it’s successful. And today, in the so-called Attention Economy, success means getting noticed, getting retweets, getting hits, double-clicks, and eyeballs. But even the most devoted social media practitioner would have to admit that hardly anything’s shorter than celebrity. Is mere attention a dependable metric for meaning? Probably not.
As we talk with our neighbors about relaunching our church, we might suggest that coming to church will quite simply feel good: Christian community will meet real human needs for friendship and good talk. (And yummy food on the snack table!) For other neighbors, the thought of getting in on an aspirational project like our young church might be all it takes to prove its meaningfulness. Ground floor? Game on!
But here’s the thing: the meaningfulness of this project we’re calling Redemption Church isn’t grounded in our passions or our success. Sometimes church makes you feel good; sometimes it just doesn’t. Sometimes, churches are successful at drawing lots of attention; sometimes their work is largely unnoticed. But at the end of the day, what makes our church project meaningful is that it’s not our project at all. It is God’s project.
Two thousand years ago, a short, fiery, wiry man named Paul wrote to a confused church gathering in Corinth, telling them to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” And, he added, “your work is not in vain.” As we talk to our neighbors and coworkers about Redemption Church, we are inviting them into what Wolf might call a “project of worth.” We’re inviting them, in other words, into the abounding work of the Living Christ.