Paul Scanlon is a pastor in the UK who writes:
“Our native environment is not the church: it’s the world – not the comfortable club, but the dangerous ocean. We were born to thrive in the adversity and hostility of a broken world. Like fish, who do better in water, we do better among a lost world because, like fish, we were designed to always stay in that native environment. Remove a fish from the water and it dies. Remove a flower from the soil and it dies. Remove the church from the world and we die.” (from The Love Revolution, p. 144)
I feel like I’m a fish who has grown up in the comfortable club.
I was raised in a Christian home, lived in a small Mennonite town where almost everybody was a Christian, and went to a school where almost everybody was a Christian. The question was not “Should I go to church?” but rather, “Which one of the Mennonite churches in this town should I go to?”
Then I left to go to Bible school for 3 years. Once I was done there, I taught piano in a Christian school, married Ben, and moved to another Mennonite town where he became a youth pastor.
And now, we have entered the most sheltered environment of all, a Bible camp in the middle of nowhere.
Sometimes that bothers me.
Sure, the nearest town is about as unchurched as you can get, but it’s 20 minutes away. We don’t really “rub shoulders” with the world on a regular basis.
I have nothing against Christian “bubbles” – there is an important time and purpose for them. And I know that many, many people have been blessed in life-changing ways because of the ministry of Red Rock Bible Camp. It is so amazing to have a quiet place to get away to where you can slow down, be surrounded by nature, and experience God in ways that you often can’t in the regular busyness of life.
But living at camp has made me see how important it is to remain in the bubble only for a time.
We need to come away from everything so that we can be refreshed and strengthened to go out into it all again.
That’s the point.
Ben and I have often talked about how Red Rock is like a greenhouse. Plants can thrive in a greenhouse because they get the perfect amount of sunshine, the perfect amount of water, the perfect temperature. Everything is controlled in that environment to provide the optimal experience for growth. The plants grow big and strong so that they can be planted out in the real world with a “head start”.
photo © 2008 Wendy Piersall (via: Wylio)
There is an important purpose for a greenhouse.
And so I think that sometimes Christians need “greenhouses” too.
But only for a time. And then it’s so important to get back out into the real world, before we start to think that the comfortable, safe, “easy-to-grow-in” environment is actually “normal”.
I think I’ve forgotten what “normal” is. Actually, I change that – I don’t think I’ve ever fully known what “normal” is. I am so very thankful for the life that God has blessed me with – the home I grew up in, my parents, the churches I attended, my Christian friends – but these days I’m asking myself what I’m going to do with it. I’m like the plant in the greenhouse wondering how it will survive in the real world.
It reminds me of playing Prisoner’s Base. Two teams, each team has their own line, and you keep trying to tag people from the other team. Whoever was on their own side of the line most recently is “freshest” and can tag other people who have been out in the middle longer, who aren’t as “fresh”.
So you run around yelling “Fresher!” at the top of your lungs. If you just hang out around home base, it’s a really boring game. You miss out on all the excitement and action.
Camps are great and churches are great, but I’m just feeling like it’s been a really long time since I’ve gone running out into the world yelling “Fresher!” at the top of my lungs. I’ve been swimming in the safe, comfortable waters, instead of in the dangerous ocean. I’m not blaming this on camp or churches – I’ve chosen to stay in my comfort zone. It was all I knew how to do. And learning new stuff can be scary. Excuses? Yes.
But I’m realizing that while fantastic quiet times with God, or amazing times of prayer and worship with other Christians feeds me and helps me to grow stronger, it can’t be the end of how I live out my life of faith. The point of being a Christian is not just to try to increase my own level of “holiness” or to continually bask in the glow of knowing that Jesus loves me, just for the sake of feeling great about it.
It’s not supposed to be like Tupperware, keeping the freshness all sealed up inside.
So how can I live in the bubble of camp and not feel like Tupperware?
How can I make the most of this “greenhouse experience” while still realizing that it is most definitely not “normal”?
And when the time comes, will I learn to thrive in the dangerous ocean when I’ve never really done it before?
These are the questions I’m asking myself these days…
So how about you? Do you feel like you need to get away from the craziness of life, and have a greenhouse experience? Or do you feel like your life has been a bit too sheltered, and you’re longing to get out into the ocean? Or maybe you’re completely comfortable swimming in the dangerous ocean, and you could give me some tips!