Becoming an Attentive Church

“Attention is the rarest and most pure form of generosity” – Simone Weil

When I need to get the attention of a room of restless children, I use a simple strategy. I start speaking more softly. I just love how this draws them in to listen and focuses their attention. I believe the Church is in a similar moment of silence and this has the potential to reorient us to God and to our neighbors.

I’ve talked multiple times this week with church leaders about how the Covid-19 Pandemic is changing the church. All indications point to a smaller and more intimate experience of the gathered People of God.

On Thursday, I was able to participate in a conversation with Brian Doerksen, worship leader and songwriter. He posed the question, “how will the church worship when singing together, and in closed spaces, seems to be a public health risk?” Ironically Brian thought this could be a unique and positive opportunity. What if our worship were more silent and attentive, would we maybe hear God and others better?

In our own community, I’ve noticed more listening since we’ve been meeting in several smaller online groups. More of our time together has been spent listening to one another. There is less music and shorter sermons. And there is more sharing and praying for one another. I hope this continues when we begin to gather again in the same physical space.

The Church, at least its North American Evangelical stream, may have an interesting opportunity to move from “intensity to intimacy.” Intimacy denotes, humility, vulnerability, brokenness, lament, gratitude, and generosity. 

The measure of impactful worship may shift from what I get out of it, to how deeply I know and am known by others.

I would describe this as becoming more “attentive.” Simone Weil, put it so beautifully, “Attention is the rarest and most beautiful form of generosity.” Covid-19 has offered us a sort of soft reset. God may be quieting us a bit to create more space for being attentive.

We are the Church, so how do each of us become more attentive. I found a few helpful ideas this week reading through John 3:22-30. Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, the same space John the Baptist was using to baptize people. This caused some commotion, and John’s disciples questioned him about it. John calmed his disciples, affirmed Jesus’ ministry, and taught them a posture of humility closing out the section with the familiar words, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Here is a quick rundown of what we can learn.

  1. Be less combative. John’s disciples said, “Everyone is going to him.” The suspected problem was that someone else was getting more attention, having more success, maybe even stole our idea! But John was perfectly content with the success of Jesus. Being attentive means not only focusing on what you are doing, but paying attention to others. John adds, “A person can receive only what is given to them from heaven.” Everyone has their unique gifts and calling. We can encourage and celebrate the work of others.
  2. You are not the Messiah. Being attentive means living within our limits. I am fond of saying, “you can do anything, but you cannot do everything.” Trying to do everything, fix everything, or save everyone, is tantamount to the original sin: “you will become like God.” It is hard for many of us to hear—God does not want you to do everything. God wants you to do something. There is much you can and should do, but trying to do everything is a drug and an idol.
  3. Befriend the work of God. John describes the beautiful image of a friend of a groom getting married. This friend serves, waits, listens, and is full of joy for his friend and his marriage. Being attentive involves being a friend to all that Jesus is doing for those he is reconciling with God. We serve, wait, listen, and rejoice in this mission of reconciliation.
  4. Get comfortable with small. John rejoiced in Jesus’ ministry becoming greater, and his personal ministry contributing to all that Jesus was doing. Being attentive involves the capacity to see our own life and ministry as a part of what God is doing to redeem, restore, and renew a broken world. This involves being a ‘member’ of the Body of Christ. We are only one body part, and we are not our own. We belong, in Christ, to others.

I believe there is a deep examination of the nature of the Church (e.g. ecclesiology). As Christian communities begin to gather again, I pray we will be attentive to one another, but especially that we will be attentive to the nature of the church as a People of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who participate with Christ’s mission. I pray we will become a more attentive Church, serving others, waiting patiently, listening carefully and rejoicing in Christ and those he draws to himself.

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