How do we know if our ministry, is on the right track? Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” - Matthew 6:22 This is one of many places where he speaks about the binary simplicity of Christian life. Our eyes are either actively attuned to the nuances of the light around us, or we are visually challenged. A local church is either discerning each day its role as a partner of God, or it is lacking in vision. Individual Christians are either prayerfully open to what the spirit is leading them to do today, or they are blind. The heart of a congregation must seek its own path in the light, or all will be darkness.
As a photographer, I am very attuned to the light. More than once, I have driven many miles to photograph a particular landscape, and then left my camera in the bag because the light wasn’t right. When I walk my camera through the dappled sunlight of a forrest trail, I find myself drawn away from the monkey-brained ideology that approaches photography the way victorian butterfly collectors approached the gathering of their specimens. The shutter isn’t my killing jar, photoshop doesn’t pin experience beneath glass cases. Turn. Pause. Breathe. All that you can see is light. Literally. I find myself humbled.
The subject may be what people say they like about a photograph. But it is the light that makes a particular exposure worth framing. The subjects in a photograph are like the tangible aspects of a local church; the people in the pew, the money in the bank, the new programs being launched, etc. Any idiot with a cell phone can take a decent picture of a tangible thing. But, what sends me out into the world, and drives me to be passionate about my craft, is the light. My favorite photographs are those which capture a fleeting moment when the light illuminated something invisible and yet profound.
Many congregations today are steadily shrinking. They shift their attention and energy inward, towards meeting their own needs and making those already in the pews more and more comfortable. They go down, losing membership, worship attendance, and enthusiasm for new things. These tangibles, however, a merely symptoms of a deeper spiritual condition. The basement is dark. There aren’t any dollars there to spend on mission. Every cent goes towards maintenance. Like a black hole, the fellowship has become a selfish singularity. Light doesn’t like black holes.
Light always travels outward, whether we join with it or not. A church can’t choose not to be in mission, just as a photon can’t choose to stand still.