Circling The Wagons

If you surrender to the fear of uncertainty, life can become a set of insurance policies.  Your short time on this earth becomes small and self-protective, a kind of circling of the wagons around what you can be sure of and what you think you can control—even God.  It provides you with the illusion that you are in the driver’s seat, navigating on safe small roads, and usually in a single, predetermined direction that can take you only where you have already been.                                     

+Richard Rohr The Naked Now

*The following comes from my sermon “Joining God’s Mission” from May 5, 2013

Jesus who is God on the move, God’s mission in action called a people to be on the move with him.  Instead of come to us—come and get it, the message is go out there and get them.   In the same way Jesus tells the fear filled disciples of his; “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Being sent means we are called to be on the move along with God.  This doesn’t come easy for most churches.

A friend of mine who grew up in the CRC said a while back, “Nobody circles the wagons like the CRC.”  I’ve heard this phrase used before. It is both a familiar and foreign idiom at the same time. If you see a picture of circled wagons, it immediately clicks. At least it did for me.


The concept refers to a group becoming cohesive and united against outsiders. It often involves presenting a united front against adversity. The phrase is derived from a practice of the early pioneers of the Western U.S. The pioneers traveled from the East in covered wagons, packed with all their belongings, and pulled by oxen or horses. They formed a caravan and traveled in small groups in a long line. At night, when they stopped to rest, the pioneers would draw up the wagons in a circle. Inside the circle was a fire, companionship, and safety. Outside the circle were wild animals, unfriendly strangers, and the unknown enemy.

This circle the wagons picture is a mixed/loaded metaphor.  It could represent a local church and the wagons being the families.  The wagons could also be depicted as some of the Christian places we work and go to school. The metaphor could represent a classis (like the insular one I came from before this). It could represent the denomination and either churches or other agencies.  A metaphor is never perfect.  With that said, my intent is not to criticize the wagons (however they be interpreted), but the general posture of staying put in the circle.

Imagine if these wagons stay put in the desert.  What would happen?  They would exhaust their resources and die.  Take a good look at this picture.  It is the default of the CRC.  God is certainly at work inside the wagons and within the circle.  But there is a lot on the frontier beyond. Is God on the move there?  This circle the wagon approach worked in the 20thcentury.  So many ask and often what is wrong with church today??  Many lament the days of when the church was full of people. What is wrong with us?  What is wrong with the world?

In the past there were three reasons the church grew this way.  One people were having a lot of babies.  This still happens, but not as many as that era known as the “baby boom.” Unless God does an Abraham and Sarah for a good number of elderly in our congregations.  The second reason was that people were loyal to institutions (most to all including church).  They were loyal and stuck with institutions through thick and thin.  Those days are gone.  Third, there was a day when the rhythms and demands on people lives were much less than they are today.  They had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time volunteering in church. These days also gone.

Can we change the conversation now?  Instead of asking what has gone wrong?  Can we please start asking “How is God on the move?  How is the Holy Spirit falling on us? How is the Spirit breaking boundaries (again) and taking us to the turf of other people?”


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