Velvet Elvis made me realize for the first time that as a congregant, I can not only affect and change my church, but that I am actually connected to the first-generation Christians from the book of Acts.
And so these first Christians passed on the faith to the next generation who passed it on to the next generation who passed it on to the next generation until it got to ... us. Here. Today. Those who follow Jesus belong to his church. And now it is our turn. It is out turn to step up and take responsibility for who the church is going to be for a new generation. It is our turn to redefine and reshape and dream it all up again. (p. 164)
I copied this down when I read it because it beautifully put into words what I had been feeling and realizing: that I am an adult now, I am a member of First Pres Berkeley, I serve on a committee, people listen to me, I introduce myself to new people, I have lots of friends there, I know the staff, it is my church, I am part of it, and therefore I can change it and affect it.
Basically, I realized that I must both connect the church I attend with the crazy stuff that the apostles were doing in Acts (planting churches, getting arrested, writing letters, founding Christianity), and realize that I am part of it and I can change it. It was founded in 30 AD or whatever, and what we're part of now is the same thing, and we have the same power to change it that the founders had. If I want it to be a certain way, then I can push it in that direction.
The church is nothing but a group of people with common beliefs who come together to worship, serve, love, question, struggle, give, take, communicate, sing, play, eat, reach out, listen, and pray. I am one of those people, and I do all of those things, so how I do them is part of what defines my church. My church is, literally, whatever I make it.
The second important point that the book drove home for me was the concept of unconditional service as evangelism. From page 167:
And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church most stop thinking of everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to the "un" and "non," they work against Jesus's teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, "God shows no favoritism." So we don't either.
Oftentimes the Christian community has sent the message that we love people and build relationships in order to convert them to the Christian faith. So there is an agenda. And when there is an agenda, it isn't really love, is it? It's something else. We have to rediscover love, period. Love that loves because it is what Jesus teaches us to do. We have to surrender our agendas. Because some people aren't going to become Christians like us no matter how hard we push. They just aren't. And at some point we have to commit them to God, trusting that God loves them more than we ever could. (p. 167)
To me, Rob Bell's point--as well as the point of a large chunk of the New Testament-- is that we should just love everyone, all the time, unconditionally. Yes it's impossible. Yes it's inspiring.