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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

It’s About Time

Written by: on February 19, 2015

Praying in Empty Church

“In our day the church building was used a lot as well.” That’s part of the conversation that I had with a couple last evening. They were visiting at an event we were holding in partnership with another local organization to help promote literacy among children in our community. This very kind lady said she used to attend services in the original building, in the sixties and seventies. She said, “We lived right across the street, so of course we were here every Sunday.” For her it seemed, that belonging to a church was about time. She went on to tell me of the many different functions that they held, which took place on several different nights of the week. And then she drifted into more quiet tones when she realized that at some point all those activities eventually stopped, the people dwindled and the building was sold.

That’s the way it was in this community and many others in our nation. People went to church, because that’s just what you did. It was a predominantly Christian-influenced society. The story of the original congregation is an all too familiar story that has continued to happen over the course of these many decades. As inward focused activity lost its appeal, so did its effect on many of the people. The result was, more elbow room in the pews, and more echoes in the hallways.

Meanwhile, outside those walls, society was changing and the people were not prepared for to engage it. Two parent, European immigrant/descendant, single income homes are no longer the norm, times have changed. We work more, play more, we rest less and we are restless. Sundays are really hold no different options than any other day of the week. We are no longer influenced by our society to make God-honouring choices; rather we have come to a place where we need to make those choices often in spite of the culture around us. The numbers suggest that few of us are doing this well or consistently. All of this is to say that I very much want to agree with Charles Taylor’s assessment of our society, in his book A Secular Age. Taylor, as part of his definition of this secular age says, “The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.” (Loc. 60-61)

In light of this the temptation, for church leaders and parishioners alike, may be to figure out ways to get people and keep them in the building. But what if the issue isn’t “place”; what if the issue is “time”? Taylor also speaks into this notion of time:

“People who are in the saeculum (secular), are embedded in ordinary time, they are living the life of ordinary time; as against those who have turned away from tis in order to live closer to eternity. The word is thus used for ordinary as against higher time.” (Loc 885)

time

I think Taylor has given us something to consider or reconsider. One of the reasons that even professing Christ following people are feeling less effective within their daily and weekly lives is due to the fact that they’ve lost track of time. We look at time in an ordinary way giving little consideration to the infinitely outstretched immeasurable amount time that we are promised. We rise in elation and plunge in despair based on the experience of egocentric moments. It’s as though we’ve lost connection or understanding of God’s eternal desires for us as a world and a global community.

The challenge for us is to redeem the time we are given on this day in such a way that it builds into the eternity of our certain hope.: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)  Taylor says, “Our past is sedimented in our present, and we are doomed to misidentify ourselves, as long as we can’t do justice to where we come from.” (Loc. 457) May we no longer be people who lose our identity; rather let us be those who are certain of whose we are, even when the world around us is no longer seems to reflect our faith in God. May we be people who make wise and prudent choices in the world, while not being consumed by the world. May we be people who care less about the number of people in our church buildings and who care more about the lives of people around us every day. May we be people who cling first to our God, knowing that He continues to be sovereign, despite societal ignorance toward him and may move through our days with His agenda in the knowledge that he will ultimately fulfill His purposes, in His time:

 “But for the ordinary householder this answer seems to require something paradoxical: living in all the practices and institutions of flourishing, but at the same time not fully in them. Being in them but not of them; being in them, but yet at a distance, ready to lose them.” (Loc. 1333-1335)

  • What choices are you making based on “ordinary” time rather than “eternal” time, and what will you do to address that imbalance?
  • How can churches redeem time and space in a world where they are one choice among many?

 

P.S. – Read this if you like. I think it models the ideas of space and time for us very well: it’s the response of Coptic Bishop Angaelos to the martyrdom of 21 Egyptians believers last week.

About the Author

mm

Deve Persad

11 responses to “It’s About Time”

  1. Deve…

    First off this reflection made me stop (for a second :), For her it seemed, that belonging to a church was about time.” I had not thought of how this is true, I had thought about church in terms of what programs you attended, but essence is the measurement is time.

    Our pace of life, the expectations of what life is to be does call us to be diligent with our time, yet as you address in your post, where is our time invested? I think this is a particular challenge to the church in our spiritual formation. Your questions remind me that often we (leadership) are careful to accommodate to the needs (which is good), but have we lost the challenge? I don’t know…. still resonating on what you have written.

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Great reply, Carol,
      A little of the “philosopher” coming out …
      There are connecting relationship in belief, faith and our being busy about doing; what is the true measurement of time?

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Carol, I certainly don’t pretend to have answers for this and therefore appreciate your willingness to think through the implications presented. My greatest concern, as a pastor, is that we ignore the eternal and substitute the temporal and then consume our time, resources and energy on the latter rather than the former.

  2. Deve,

    Fabulous post. Really made me think deeply. Thanks for being a pastor who flows with the reality of the times. You write, “We rise in elation and plunge in despair based on the experience of egocentric moments. It’s as though we’ve lost connection or understanding of God’s eternal desires for us as a world and a global community.” This is spot on. You need to write a book.

    Your questions are also thought provoking. I live in the Northwest United States where there are many “unchurched” people. I get this. People are struggling to find relevance in the church, particularly on Sunday mornings. So what is the answer to this? Is there an answer? Perhaps this is more an opportunity than a problem. It just might be a challenge to Christians about how to “do church” better, differently, perhaps more relationally. Perhaps the days of Sunday morning church has to change, not by having better programs but by having different expectations. Somehow, I think, we are being called to a more relational model of what used to be a more program-based model. I don’t know what that is, but I am glad that there are pastors like you who are searching for a right response to this situation. I am most interested in your answers to your questions.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Hey now, Professor, turning my questions back to me…nicely done. The second question is one that is one that we are currently and constantly wrestling with and therefore have no clear answers. The first question is a little easier, although it does involve continual change. The Lord has impressed on me the need to be involved in places where I can use my teaching gifts ( so I rarely say “no” to those) and secondly, I invest time in community endeavours where the light of the gospel will make a difference (most recently it means getting connected to helping families with autistic children or new immigrant students). That’s where I’m at, at least for now…thanks for asking.

  3. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Deve,
    Thanks for your post – you have helped me in my attempt to understand and relate to Taylor’s comments on “ordinary time” and “higher time.”

    Taylor is ascribing a fourth sense to “secular” but applying it only to the pre-modern era. According to Taylor, “secular ” etymologically comes from the early Latin word “saeculum” which you note means being “embedded in ordinary time, they are living the life of ordinary time” (884). Further, saeculum refers to an period of time, such as, a century or an “era” which helps to understand the title “Secular Era.” Taylor further clarifies that to be the “higher time” of the pre-modern era is to encounter “kairotic” moments (knots); “meaning the right or opportune moment” (Wikipedia). So, secular in a pre-modern context would be the moment of greatest opportunity for an example: make a decision, discover a truth, or exercise faith. What is difficult to grasp, which you have helped to clarify, is how we interpret the value of time as “higher time” in the context of the twenty-first century.

    Taylor asks the question, “Why are times higher?” He answers: it is the difference or concept of time as temporal or eternal. “Time is a moving image of eternity. It is imperfect …” So, we understand “what happens in time is less real than the timeless.” From a Christian perspective, beginning with understanding God in “ordinary time,” how do we experience the timeless God as “less real than the timeless?” Taylor says, “The Bible sees the universe as made by God. It also tells a story of God’s dealings with humans. … It also means that what happens in time matters. God enters into drama in time. The Incarnation, the Crucifixion happened in time, and so what occurs here can no longer be seen as less than fully real” (909-911).

    Does this relate to your question, “What choices are you making based on ‘ordinary’ time rather than ‘eternal’ time, and what will you do to address that imbalance?” We make our choices in “ordinary time” because that is where we live, but our choices matter; our choices make a difference; our temporal (secular in a pre-modern sense) choices are not “less than fully real.” Even if unconscious, every act, every choice, every decision is made in the context of “higher” or eternal time. God grant us the grace to live in this world as if we are living in eternity.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Ron thanks for engaging this so thoroughly. I like your assessments regarding the difference (or convergence) of temporal and eternal time. It is definitely possible for us to have our real-time moments contribute to the unfolding of eternity…because after all eternity does include now. The greater reflective question for us is, will the use of that time stand up to the Lord’s refining fire? Understanding that aspect can help shape our realtime decisions. Thoughts?

  4. mm Julie Dodge says:

    So thoughtful, encouraging, and inspiring. Thank you, Deve.

    I may be mistaken, but I want to say that it was in Modern Social Imaginaries that I learnec that Ben Franklin coined the term, “Time is money.” A construct that guides Western action, values and thought. We have lost our concept of time, indeed. Because time is more than ordinary. It is more than list checking, efficiency and money. It is about all of those other things you pointed out – people, God, and the journey itself.

    Thank you for the reminder.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      I appreciate that additional insight Julie; I’ll have to look that up as well but certainly there is no disagreement with the fact that “time is money” has significantly influenced the way we handle ourselves.
      In Ron’s comments to me, above, he provided some needed application as to how ordinary time is redeemed into eternal time and therefore our daily choices can have eternal purpose.
      Thanks for furthering the conversation.

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Deve, as always I appreciate your posts because of the community aspect you incorporate. This is important because relationship and people matter. I believe Taylor book expounds on the need to listen, learn and understand where people are at in life and what forces in society govern destiny. You write; “The challenge for us is to redeem the time we are given on this day in such a way that it builds into the eternity of our certain hope.: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
    This is such a great reminder because it is easy for believers to get overwhelmed by the isms of the world and forget the most significant issue which as you quoted scripture ” … understand what the Lord’s will is” and do it.

    How do you go about teaching about God’s will in your church?

    Thank you!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      That’s a great question Michael. One of the keys we talk about consistently is being able to walk in rhythm with the Spirit of God, which requires aligning our lives to His Word, and serving the needs of people – those two things are eternal and through them we often discover the next steps for God’s desire for our own lives – that’s where we start…

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