I have been reading and thinking about church this week...
David Fitch brought up the messy aspect of dealing with differences in community.
"...it was the preserving of difference that made way for such a missional order of community where a.) people can learn to love the other and b.) become places of hospitality, ministry and service for Christ's mission."
Brother Maynard swiped at the pastoral model of church.
"We’ve got to be willing to take a good hard look at the way we lead, follow, and build… and I know where we got those shepherds… we created them, just like the nation of Israel demanded a king."
Bob stirred things up this week with his article Why I'm Not Done With Church.
This is church:
"If someone wants to be a house church of 5 or 10 people, then okay. That's *great* in fact. Baptize people, take communion, serve the poor together, read and discuss Scripture and pray with and for each other. Regularly worship God together and when necessary, correct one another."
This is not:
"But the option I don't believe is on the table for people following Jesus is to disconnect from the larger Body of Christ, circle up with a couple of buddies, and assume that having some spiritual conversations now and again (mostly focused on what sucks about church) is sufficient."
And people reacted.
The miscommunication reminded me of the posts and comments that I've read on "the dark side." When you start off with a premise about a group of people - for example that all emerging people are unsaved heretics - it is not likely your writing will connect with them based on a premise they do not identify with.
The typical responses always follow,
"Not all emergents are like that."
"Then why are you so defensive?"
"You just don't understand us."
"...nailing jello to a wall..."
"something about Nazis and Hitler..."
and it is down hill from there.
Bob has said if you don't identify, then the article isn't about you. So great. No harm, no foul.
For those who truly fit his description of being completely disconnected, please hear Bob's encouragement "....to pursue healing and pursue *church* no matter what it looks like."
As we consider the operating system of church...
Who decides what is a valid and legitimate expression of local gathering?
Can we have "free agents" in the church? Or do we have to pick a team?
Some "out of church" christians DO consider themselves connected to the body of believers and they DO intentionally pursue community. However, their definition of community differs in that it is not limited to a designated meeting or organization.
(While I am using the term "out of church" christians, many of these people do not consider themselves "out of church." However, this term is typically used to describe those who do not identify with structured models of church.)
Our imagination of church tends to be stuck on static models. We think in terms of a specific group of people, meeting at specific times, often in a specific location.
Much of the focus is on the development and growth that we experience as part of a community. The intent of gathering, in whatever form, centers around the quality and depth of community that we will experience.
Lacking a missional purpose, community becomes self-serving. This is why we have the pastoral-care model of church. It is all about us, our needs, and our growth.
With the focus on community and our relationships with one another, we become distanced from relationships that we had before we became involved in our church community. Because we define church according to our particular group, we often neglect connecting relationally with others in the body of Christ.
It was Michael Frost who said that when we focus on building community, we destroy it. His idea of communitas is community that develops in the process of pursuing mission.
I have posted about this before. Even when our ideals are missional, I think that churches are rarely created with mission as the primary purpose.
"Missional community emerges from missional purpose first. We gather with those who share our heart and passion for this cause. We function together in the service of this cause. Our service together is what produces liminality which then creates the communitas we share as a group."
What if the point is not about forming or maintaining a community? What if instead of creating a gathering, we pursued a missional purpose and allowed community to develop in that process? What if we trusted that real community would develop in the process of mission, that we would find comrades amidst our journey?
This is where our opinion of "out of church" christians matters. Perhaps some of them are not sitting around wounded waiting for the church to figure out a way to develop an outreach ministry for the unchurched.
Maybe they really are faithful disciples who believe that the Holy Spirit will form community in their lives. Could we give them the benefit of the doubt? Could we imagine that the Holy Spirit can create community outside of our need to organize and formulate relationships?
I believe that within the group of "out of church" christians is the potential for church to be done in ways that we have never imagined. No, they aren't conforming to our ideas of community. They test our sense of how things ought to be. They express a view and expectation of church that does not fit established models.
It is possible they are following God, and within them is the imagination to be the church in a way we have not yet dreamed.