Did I achieve my goal in writing this series? Did I clarify my relationship to the church and find a way forward? Perhaps I had already come to my conclusions and simply had to articulate in detail my reasons. Nevertheless, I have learned from this process. As readers of this series know, I was a leader—an elder—at the heart of a parachurch church for nearly twenty-three years. In this role, I gave lots of time and lots of money to its maintenance. I experienced lots of frustration and anxiety. And there were also moments of joy and success. I loved and still love the people. But my overall conclusion is that the system of organization and traditional social expectations limit how well such an institution can actually manifest the church in the world. Hence I came to the conclusion that I could no longer serve as a leader of an institutional church. Nor can I be an enthusiastic participant in the parachurch church project. I don’t want it to disappear, and I don’t want to discourage those who benefit from it from participation. I too can participate in it and support it in its role as a second circle bridging simple churches to the universal church. But I can no longer direct huge amounts of time and energy and money to its success as an institution. I need to use that time, energy, and money for something I really believe in.
As I said in previous essays, I am a professor, a theologian, a Christian, and a lover of the church. I have had the opportunity to receive an amazing education, and as a professor of theology, I have been given time to teach, read, learn, think, and write. I have had experience in the fulltime paid ministry and as a leader in a church. Hence I feel a call teach what I have learned to as many people as possible in whatever medium I can. As far as my relationship to the church, I participate in a simple church that meets in our house—or online during the pandemic. This has been one of the most profound and encouraging experiences of my life. But as a teacher of the faith I feel a call to serve all believers everywhere, the universal church. I don’t believe I—or any other theologian—should identify myself as a teacher of the specific doctrines characteristic of my tradition. I speak to everyone “as one without authority,” a phrase Kierkegaard used to describe his writing as someone lacking ordination. I view my ministry as trans-congregational and trans-denominational. Like a traveling evangelist—who travels mostly via the internet and books—I will preach the good news to anyone anywhere.
I end now with a prayer and one of my favorite hymns.
Father in Heaven! Bless Thy church everywhere: the persecuted with courage and relief; the weary with rest and renewal; and the lukewarm with revival.
Come Holy Spirit! Quicken the dead; strengthen the weak, embolden the fainthearted.
Come Lord Jesus! Accompany those who must walk lonely paths, give your gentle presence to the dying, and gather your people into their eternal home.
The day Thou Gavest
The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended. The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended: Thy praise shall hollow now our rest.
We thank Thee that Thy Church, unsleeping, While earth rolls onward into light,
Thro’ all the world her watch is keeping, And rests not now by day or night.
The sun that bids us rest is waking Our brethren ‘neath the western sky;
And hour by hour fresh lips are making Thy wondrous doings heard on high.
So be it, Lord: Thy throne shall never, Like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
But stand and rule and grow for ever, Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.
Hello Ron, I have followed you all the way thru your 30 posts. You have absolutely traveled the road Sandie and I have traveled. Your logical thoughts have been our thoughts as well. Your summation on post #30 echoes as being mine personally. We are embracing others daily who have not had their experiences in the Restoration tradition. We are so sorry we missed y’all two weeks ago. Our next visit will be specific. We want to visit your Simple Church again! I have specific people with which I want to share your thoughts. They are ready to approach this revolutionary thinking.
I am missing post numbers 1 thru 16. I was not successful retrieving them from your lists to the right of this post. Could you resend them to me at my email address below?
Thank you for this thoughtful series, Dr. Highfield! One last question—do you think this ~year of Coronavirus pandemic lockdown will catalyze others coming to similar realizations about the church as you have? It occurred to me that how my family is engaging with the church in this time looks a lot more like the simple church that you have described than the big, programmed parachurch.
My family has been doing simple-church for 16-years. We love the openness and transparency we experience in the simple format. I understand now how the early church met and felt supporting each other in week-to-week living. The COVID-19 shutdown of parachurch organizations is forcing attenders to re-think Church. Ron’s blogs are very timely.
I think that is possible. Perhaps big churches will also realize how important it is to foster small groups. I will be interested to see what effect our displacement will have for the long term.
It may have this effect in others as well. Many people are forming “pods” and hiring teachers to teach their kids. They may not wish to return to business as usual with the public schools.
Thanks for reading the essays in this series! I hope to turn them into a short book.