Monday, July 16, 2007

Modus Operandi

I have been reading and thinking about church this week...

David Fitch brought up the messy aspect of dealing with differences in community.

" 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.

Bob says:

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 " 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.


Dan J. said...

I have been forced to think about this quite a bit over the last year or so. A good friend has "dropped out" of church but is still part of my small group. He is looking for where God is active and joining himself to that. But it is not "church". He and his wife are still very much into Bible study, listening to online sermons and getting together with other Christians as often as they can (which is more than many Christians that go to church each week do).

I think we are often confused when we think of "church" as a thing instead of people. The church is people. If we think of "church" this way it allows us to see that those not attending a particular service in a particular building at a particular time can still be in "church". Fellowship is not what happens at 11:00 am Sunday morning, it is what happens the rest of the week.

I think we need to start thinking about "being" the church rather than "attending" church. Being church requires a sense of mission. Attending church does not.

I agree that our imagination is limited when we can't see that what some of them are doing is being church.

I wonder sometimes if what many of us are doing is really "church".

Mary said...

Sometimes I wonder if we "neglect connecting relationally with others" because their differing views threaten us and our definition of what church is. We hold "being right" at a higher priority than connecting relationally with people with differing views.

traveller said...

We always say that Christianity, or following Jesus, is about relationships. Love God, love others. Then we immediately spend all our time gaining "knowledge", sorting out doctrine, and what we should "believe".

As one who has been "out of the church" (i.e. out of the "clubhouse") for more than one year, but in a group some might call a house or simple church, I see how people continually gravitate back to studying the Bible, learning doctrine, etc. in order to avoid a real relationship with God and others. It is fascinating for me to watch. Perhaps after 1700 years of indoctrination we can do no better.

My point is not to say that studying the Bible is wrong or sorting through what one believes is wrong but I have a sense that many people do this, not because it is valuable, but because it allows them to avoid a real relationship with God or others. I know this seems counterintuitive but I have no other explanation for some of the things I see happening.

And, while I agree that being missional can help create community (communitas), this, too, can be an excuse for not being in true communion with God and others since we can become just human doings instead of human beings.

This may sound very pessimistic but I am not. I believe the Holy Spirit is at work creating change that we cannot yet imagine but will transform the expression of church over the next few decades. Just looking at the statistics on George Barna's website indicates that it is already in process. This is actually exciting. But transformations are never easy.

sonja said...

I hope this won't sound trite ... it's not meant to be. But as I was reading your post, I couldn't get the phrase, "out of body experience," out of my head. It seemed to me that you were describing an "out of body" experience for these people (I guess I'm one of them at the moment). Just as our culture looks sideways at the reports of such experiences, so do our churches. I think we all struggle with norms of behavior and want everyone to conform to our own internal standards. Then we go about finding lots of other people with similar standards and then we find external support (Bible teaching) for our standards and ... poof ... we have rules to follow. It makes things rather more complicated.

GIG said...


WOW! A lot of good stuff on this blog that is challenging. I'm a pastor of an American Baptist Church and I struggle with this same balance of in the church out of the church. I think one of the problems with church for many people is that when it started almost 2000 years ago, people joined out of necessity. When you believed in Jesus you joined a community of faith that held you up and encouraged you in the midst of persecution. The community depended on each other and so you didn't join just for yourself, but to help others with needs also. Nowadays, we have people coming to church to be "fed." In a way it has become all about them and not about God. We have become self-centered. Every church has to deal with this even house churches. I write about a new legalism on my blog Grounded In Grace that speaks to this same kind of thing. Jesus came so that we could be free and we continue to make up laws or expectations that we follow that we think make us more acceptable to God. We have to get out of the understanding that church is about us and get back to the understanding that church is about God and joining with other pieces of the body of Christ.

In another note we need to be careful that we don't lose ourselves in the doing as traveller said. So many people do so much for God that they lose their devotion of God. When Christianity becomes more about doing and less about God we have lost something.

grace said...

Great comments. I especially like your point about "when we think of "church" as a thing instead of people" and the distinction between "being the church" versus "attending church." I think there is much yet to discover in our imagination of church.

So true, and I wonder if we let ourselves off the hook by only applying the "one-anothering" scriptures to the group we meet with rather than extending that degree of love and acceptance to other groups of brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. It seems we pat ourselves on the back for being able to love the group of people who most likely think just like we do.

I agree with you that activity and knowledge can become a substitute for relationship, a plan to follow rather than the person of God himself.

Very good point about the possibility of missional activity becoming the same thing. The caution I here is that we would allow our missional activity to be rooted and birthed out of our relationship with the Father rather than our own need or desire to be fulfilled.

Love your last paragraph, and I agree with your expectancy that the Holy Spirit is bringing transformation to the church.

I think I understand what you are saying. I have trouble accepting the conclusion of others that I am somehow "out of the body" if my experience doesn't conform to their expectations of body life. To be honest, it took me a long time to let go of my own expectations and to begin trusting that God will connect me to the body according to His plans for me.

Good points. I think as we get a greater understanding of our identity as the people of God, we also grow in our understanding of what is church.

Erin said...

Great post, grace. I would have commented sooner but I've been painting since Saturday. Sigh.

I like your paragraph towards the end where you say that we (me) have the potential to "do" church in new ways, even though we aren't conforming.

I can't help but struggle with this issue - it's sort of my last remnant of organized religion - the idea that we need to organize. Still working through that and not sure what conclusion I'll come to.

I appreciate you bringing it up.

grace said...

I share in your struggle. The time issue that you brought up is a big factor for me. I am not willing to invest my time in organizational things at this point. And even as far as house church, there is a part of me that wonders why I have to organize my relationships into a structure rather than just enjoying them for what they are.

Let me know when you get it figured out. ;)

GIG said...

Grace and Erin,

After reading your comments, a question popped into my head. Can Christianity still exist without organized religion? In some way a fear of mine would be that more cult kind of groups would arise because of it as there would be no basis of teaching that has been tested over time. Something to ponder for me. Thanks for getting me thinking!