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A theology of interruption


I was recently at a church service where the projector and computer ceased talking to one another. It was one of the comical moments where the next song became something of a solo for the pastor, who seemed to be the only one in possession of all the words. In mock confusion, I jokingly asked the steward handing out songbooks how to ‘switch them on’. It made me think about our reliance on technology, but also ask, what if God was acting to challenge things that have a spirit of control (social media, technology, etc.) and wants us to encounter the Spirit differently. Are we open to this, or has that not factored into our service plan?

 

Over the years, a sense of professionalism and excellence has entered the Church; this is not necessarily a bad thing, and I believe it has been primarily on the back of trying to attract ‘seekers’ – those looking for God. Nevertheless, I sense that the world has changed, and trying to hold people’s attention by recording quality music, slick messages, and polished video performances projected onto large screens is not necessarily the way to go. Perhaps what those seeking God desire more than anything today is authenticity and ‘interruptibility’.

 

Interruptions can be God’s invitation to a closer connection with Him by disrupting our activities, capturing our attention, and speaking to us. It could be argued that the pandemic was a severe interruption to regular Church and that God used it to alert us to the need to change; to make room to pray more, find space, forsake our set programmes, and instead focus on being present with Him. I find it interesting that people are still talking about returning to normal as if the disruption had no meaning other than two years of inconvenience.

 

We are in the midst of the season of Lent, which is in itself an interruption (especially as it began mid-week with Ash Wednesday). This Lent, I have chosen to read Andrea Tornielli’s excellent book, The Life of Jesus’, with an introduction and commentary by Pope Francis. It has been helpful in that it has aided me in seeing how interruptible Jesus was. Take Mark 5 as an example. Jesus is on His way onto another place and ministry when someone tugs on His cloak in search of healing for herself. And Jesus comes to a stop. A tiny girl’s life hangs in the balance while He praises this impertinent woman for her faith. He infuses life into this woman even as the little girl He was on His way to save takes her final breath. Jesus understood there was room for two miracles where I would only have carved out time for one. Jesus was open to interruptions.

 

If we, following the example of Jesus, are God’s servants, surely it means we are interruptible by the master? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing in Life Together, says this,

 

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks... It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually, they are disdaining God’s “crooked yet straight path.”

 

I don't believe we need to try to artificially create a time for the Holy Spirit to interrupt a service, but being interruptible is wonderful, and allowing God room when it happens, in my experience, leads to transformative times in the lives of people and the church. Perhaps our prayer could be, "O Lord, make me interruptible," asking with a listening heart and ear, 'What are you doing in this place and at this time, and how do we need to pay attention to this?'


Simon Mattholie

CEO, Rural Ministries

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