In the Christian classic The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis takes us into the classrooms of hell where a senior devil is instructing his nephew on how to destroy the spiritual life of a young Christian.
Lewis had the brilliant idea that, by seeing things from the perspective of our enemy, we can understand his tricks and not be fooled by them.
What if we take an imaginary tour into the same classroom today, not to study Satan’s strategy for ruining Christians, but rather his tactics for taking down the Church.
What would be the enemy’s most effective means of blocking the mission Jesus gave to his disciples?
In Communist times, the best strategy was to keep the Church poor. In the Renaissance, what worked was making the Church rich.
But what would the devil do today if he wanted to make sure the Gospel was no longer shared in an effective way? How could he make sure that faith in Christ would wither for a generation?
A full-out attack rarely works. Some of his harshest strategies – like torture and martyrdom – didn’t work at all. Persecution often makes Christians stronger. Stripping the church of her worldly goods can lead to a sort of purification.
So what would a present day Screwtape tell his nephew Wormwood if the object of their evil attention was the Church itself?
In particular, what would be their diabolical strategy for Christ the Redeemer Parish at this very moment? I’ve been thinking this over a lot. There are wonderful opportunities ahead of us, but great risks also. So where does danger lie?
After prayer and reflection and discussion, and in the spirit of the Screwtape Letters, I offer to you the devil’s best shot at making sure we fail in the mission Christ has given our parish.
Business as usual.
Not by dungeon, fire and sword, as the hymn goes. The Church today and our parish in particular is threatened by business as usual.
It’s an insidious threat, because business as usual feels good. With business as usual we’re doing something that worked well in the past.
With business as usual we aren’t being stretched or prodded or challenged. We park ourselves in one of the waiting rooms of hell – the comfort zone.
Christ the Redeemer has arrived at a decisive time, a critical time, in its history. It’s time to abandon business as usual and respond afresh to Jesus who said “I am making all things new.”
This about-face from business as usual may seem startling, but it’s been more than two years in the making. In June 2017 a large number of parish leaders gathered for a workshop. After nearly eight hours of prayer and reflection, the group reached two simple conclusions. The first was that our parish needed to ask God to show us how to become disciples and missionaries.
The second conclusion was that we needed small group faith studies—groups of five or six where we can share and deepen our faith.
Those two ideas have already been bearing fruit. Alpha has developed and grown, and become ever more a part of our parish culture. And the Discovery faith studies have helped numerous parishioners and some converts to discover discipleship more deeply.
Now it’s time for the next phase of God’s work in our parish family.
It’s time to make sure that the mission is front and center of everything we do at Christ the Redeemer. It’s time to focus our time, talent and treasure on finding the lost sheep, on sharing the Gospel not only among ourselves but boldly and intentionally with our brothers and sisters who do not know Jesus.
Carey Nieuwhof, who leads one of the most successful evangelical churches in Canada, tells Christian leaders “Every day there’s a battle for focus. Stay focused on the ministry and mission.”
They say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And so we have planned. The Parish Pastoral Council has been capably guided in a lengthy process of discernment that has led us to identify our core purpose: to become a parish of missionary disciples.
Yesterday some five dozen parishioners gathered in prayer to prepare for new leadership roles that will help us do what God calls us to do—sharing his Good News to a wounded world.
We looked at new methods for accomplishing our mission, including how to share our own faith stories with others and how to pray with and for others.
Of course becoming a missionary disciple requires first that we discover discipleship—specifically, what we’re calling “intentional discipleship.”
We’re all somewhere on the discipleship path, but now each of us needs to discover exactly where we are—because then we can, with God’s help, figure out the next forward step.
The front page of the bulletin today is a roadmap of the discipleship path. It’s meant to challenge every single member of the parish, from the most uncertain to the most committed.
Where are you on that path? It doesn’t matter where, as long as you’re ready to take the next step.
Perhaps, after years of coming to Mass, you can say you’re still seeking. You’re a seeker. Then come to Alpha and see if God has more to share with you.
Maybe you can say that you’ve decided to follow Jesus and to change your life. You’re willing to do whatever he asks. You’ve become an intentional disciple. Then make a decision to move towards missionary discipleship by making a plan to ask a friend or family member—or two or three—to Alpha next week.
In the months ahead, we will offer many opportunities for those who want to walk on the discipleship path, recognizing that we’re all at different points on our journey.
This week, just take the next step. Take a good look at the roadmap in the bulletin. Ask God where you are and where he wants you to go.
Because the road to hell is not paved with good intentions. It’s paved with no intentions.