We have all had the experience of getting stuck in a rut somewhere. Our car sinks into a ditch full of mud or (perhaps more recently) backs into a bank of snow. We know right away we are trapped.

The first instinct is to floor the pedal and thus accelerate the wheels, but the faster we spin them, the worse it gets, the deeper we sink. The harder we try to move forward, the more we seem to be going backward!

Modern life often looks like this. For all our notions about progress and going forward, we seem as a society not to be gaining ground, but losing it.

Some people think of the Church that way, too. We hear talk of decline and shrinking. If such inferences are based on the numbers of church-goers in our region, then there might seem to be a good reason for this deduction, though internationally it is not so apparent. Demographics may be a factor, as well economics and secularization. It could also be that the way we "do" church no longer attracts people so much, because we have lost sight of what our mission is really about.

For many people who find institutionalized religions no longer appealing to them, it seems that church groups are like clubs. To get in, you pay your dues, do your duties and, in turn, receive the benefits of membership. Unfortunately, this is the "spinning your wheels," same-old same-old, boring kind of church.

"Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car," quipped famed author G.K. Chesterton. We need something more, something more vital -- at the very least, a change of attitude.

We can't "do church" this way and expect it to fulfill its mission. We need to reform our minds and hearts according to Christ's mission in the world, which is continued through us, His body.

"Ecclesia semper reformanda:" the Church must always be reformed. "Reformed" does not necessarily mean that something is changed into something new, something that it was not before. It can also mean getting back into shape, like some of us have promised ourselves we will do this year with ourselves, physically, mentally and spiritually.

If the Church is to be reformed, it must be so that it can be recognized as the body of Christ, for that is what it is.

St. Paul develops this very beautifully in the first chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians. After reminding us that Christ has overcome all the chaotic powers of evil and that God gives Him command over all creatures in heaven and on Earth, he summarizes: "And God put all things under Christ's feet, and He gave Him to the Church as head over all things. Now the Church is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:22-23).

If we contemplate these verses for a moment, they are saying that the Church -- all of us baptized into the body of Christ -- is God's crowning gift to Jesus! This is the gift that brings Christ to the completion of His own mission: to be head of the Church that reaches and embraces everyone.

Is this our experience of Church? Is this what we are helping it to become: a home where all evil is put aside, where holiness fills every member, every person who makes up this body; a communion of saints who live and die for one another, so that everyone can be healed and saved?

The "club" mentality of church tends to build up feelings of entitlement and resentment. I get no more (and no less) than what I put in, what I pay for. Often, very active and faithful church members -- and this is not only in the Catholic Church -- become frustrated, fatigued and disillusioned for what they experience as a lack of gratitude for all they do.

They are certainly not in it for themselves and are often extraordinarily generous. They often feel guilty about complaining, but they may be on to something here. They recognize that the Church has to be engaging every single member in some way -- not just the "professional" members, those ordained or designated as "ministers," and those who always show up and volunteer. It is the mission of every Christian to make disciples of Christ -- other Christs! -- for all are members of His body.

I remember a religious sister telling my class in grammar school that if anyone was responsible for bringing one other person to know and love Jesus -- only one person -- their life would have been worth living and it would be a sure ticket to heaven. What a great theologian she was! For that is exactly how Jesus describes the role of every disciple, every baptized Christian: to make other Christs.

By baptism we become temples of the Holy Spirit, homes with hearts in which He yearns to dwell, and missionaries to bring His joy and love to every person we encounter on our life's journey. What a Church we would become, the one described by Paul as Christ's own body and experienced throughout history wherever disciples follow their mission and commission, where everyone is filled with the fullness of Christ -- if we only got back to the basics of what in fact we are.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)