A Culture of Consent in a World of Permission
Contrary to popular perception, church is a verb; church is an action that is undertaken collectively. The word in Greek is ekklesia, a compound word literally meaning “called out”, and refers to an assembly called together to do legislative (social and political) work. It was a secular term in the time of Jesus, and its use in Scripture demonstrated both the responsibility of Jesus’ followers to do life -changing work AND the responsibility to challenge the “principalities and powers” that claim the authority of God.
We are church because we consent to be church; we hear the call from God in the invitation from one another to gather, and we do so. We gather not because God needs us, but because we need God, and we experience God through the love, labor, and shared suffering of one another. Our hope and our healing happen in the context of being “called out” by God from our isolation and “called in” to a body of people seeking collective liberation. We learn that our struggles are different and our oppressions are varied, yet our need of God ’s power and vision is universal.
Church is a space of consent; we do not tell one another what to do or how it “should be done”. We may offer best practices or hard-won insight to one another as an act of care, motivated by our desire for healing and hope for all. The problem is that churches have become nouns; the church is the building or the budget or the bylaws. When we are dealing with things, we immediately have the problem of possession and therefore the task of permission -giving. Who gets to spend the money, and on what? Who gets to use the building, and when? Who gets to change the rules, and how?
The reality is, Admiral Church is both a verb and a noun. Over time, the body of people called out has purchased property and organized itself into a 501 nonprofit corporation. The body has created a Church Council and elected leaders who make decisions between Annual Meetings. None of this negates the consent basis of our church, but it can distract us from it. At our Annual Meeting next month, we will collectively consent to how our gathered resources will be spent (we call this agreement our budget). We will consent to bestowing responsibility for executing that budget on a number of members of our gathered body (we call them Church Officers or Church Council members). We will also consent to being church together and funding the operation of the “noun parts” of our church (we call this membership and pledging, respectively).
At the end of the day, though, church is a decision that we make, not a thing that we have. Our church is what we consent to co -create, not what we are permitted by others to do. If you are operating in a permission mindset (either asking for it or offering/denying it), I encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself, “what would happen if I started approaching my church from a culture of consent?” What if instead of talking about what other people should/shouldn’t be doing, we decided we were only going to talk about what we personally were committing to do, and we started inviting others to consent to join us? What if we actively worked to remove as many “permission required” signs from our church as possible? I suspect our responsibility would shift from having “great ideas” to having deep relationships, something our God desires more than anything in the world.
In Peace, Pastor Andrew