Given we Christians are supremely acclimated to being centralized in our local churches; much of what we do together, we do at or in church. It's our spiritual base, so to speak. Psychologically, it settles us in a shared locational identity as I mentioned in my previous blog: http://oldmenplantingchurches.blogspot.com/2013/05/breaking-free-from-unexamined-tendency.html.We do understand the church is the people, not the place, but we can blend them emotionally without too much effort.
Lately as part of my "container not fitting the brew" metaphor for the church and the Kingdom mission of incarnating the gospel to the community under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I've been thinking of what it would look like for the church to be diffuse, but unified. Here's what I mean: what if folks who gathered together in a particular church learned how to be on the same mission in unity even when they were apart: in their homes, with their families, at their jobs, in their neighborhoods, in their schools, or going about their errands and other commitments in life such as school sports?
You see, as Americans we're well-trained in being discreet individuals free to pursue our own dreams, carry our own responsibilities, follow our passions and spend time doing whatever captures our interest or fulfills our sensibilities, including spiritual. We're invited to be all we can on our own, or with whomever we choose. You have to take responsibility for your own life and make of it everything you can. That's the American Dream so aim high and have it all!
So we're out there scrappin'. Problem is, we have little or no sense of communitas, http://oldmenplantingchurches.blogspot.com/2012/04/being-we-even-when-were-apart-part-1.html or a profoundly shared mission. We're not self-aware that we are a missional team even though each of us is engaged in different daily pursuits. You have your life; I have mine - we just happen to be "members" of the same church on the corner. We intersect in various ways, but not because we apprehend we've been called to the same mission, and are expected by God help each other fulfill it together and apart. Who does that?
If we were aware that we're a missional team, we'd be gathering to talk about what God is doing in and through each one of us. For instance, we'd all be praying for one of the guy's at Joe's work who's showing an opening to the Gospel, and checking into see how it's going. Or Penny is experiencing a substantial uptick in spiritual warfare because she's prayerwalking in her neighborhood. I don't know about you, but folks don't routinely talk about that or "own" their shared mission because we think individualistically. If we are self-aware that we're a missional team, we'd also be routinely praying together for the Holy Spirit's strategic direction in our town through each and everyone of us. We'd be listening for instruction and focus together. We'd practice the challenging work of group discernment, and learn how to listen to one another talk about what each senses God says is where we're to head out. Our hearts and minds would be knitted together, not just gathered under one roof. The purpose would be to take action individually and corporately, but unified in one heart under the leadership of the Spirit.
Then, Sunday morning worship (the centerpiece of most churches) would become a festive gathering of fully enfranchised and focused followers of Jesus Christ who come to celebrate, testify, encourage, be taught, and worship the goodness of God because he is making a difference in and through us all. We could become acclimated to the reality he still is bringing and creating the Kingdom. In such a free and joyous atmosphere people would find it strange to be a disconnected spectator or passive religious consumer. It wouldn't fit the setting even for introverts.
The reality is we need a sea-change from the church of individuals (no matter they be Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, independents, etc.) to a communitas of disciples graciously, but deliberately helping one another (no one left behind) be the Kingdom in their communities that others may open to Christ, (their true Liberator), know his Gospel (their true liberation), and become one of his own in this world (their true humanity). Our individuality then turns to a common end, each of us engaged and bringing gifts which fit the task we've all embraced in our neighborhood, town, city or regions. Such a community elevates what it means to be a person to the most noble of tasks: sowing, and nurturing the seeds of healing redemption in another person.
This sea-change starts with leaders persistently casting (initiating and living themselves) an inspiring vision of communitas in their local churches so they might live the life of an empowered follower outside the church's walls. The picture must be painted lavishly of a people summoned by Christ to follow him into the neighborhood, a people with gifts too important to leave in the sanctuary. Soon after, leaders will start to sit with each person in the church, and hear their stories of life with Christ, or their stories of woundedness, failure, disappointment and fear - what they actually experience of him. For some, they will need to offer healing and forgiveness, but also the possibility of a purpose-ignited life with everyone else. At some point in the journey to communitas, leaders must make powerful calls to abiding prayer, and the patient creating of a spiritual atmosphere where people can seek the Holy Spirit (not as mere individuals) to summon them in the missional adventure the Father has set for them. People will also need to be trained how to discern where God is already working in the community around them, and then how to engage so they can listen to a person's heart in their story. In turn, they'll need to learn how to listen to the Spirit as they engage people. Discernment is key here too. This overall refocusing will require courage, a sense of humor, and a clear-eyed longing to see the church redemptively fecund in the community around it. The leaders have to have the same attitude of Martin Luther when he stood before the Pope and averred: "Here I stand; I can do no other."
This sea-change will also necessitate looking closely at the culture of the church to see where it's set up to promote maintaining the status quo where church-life is mostly life at church, a spiritual feeding-trough, hospital, and way station with teaching. Remember, I 'm suggesting we create church communities where our following Christ is individually spread out through the community, it's diffuse, but unified, single-hearted and single-minded. We are deeply together, linked even when apart because our idea of church is a focused spiritual organism with an eternal purpose and we want to be a part of it. Each of us carries in unity with our brethren the church under the leading of the Spirit; one body, but all of us pursuing our commonly-held mission with Christ our inspiration and fructifying Leader. And we'll be aware of what others are doing as each works with God in their "mission-field,"; one for all and all for one. What my brother or sister is up to with Christ is what I'm doing too.We still meet together, for sure, but not because of habit, rather because we bring stories of the transforming power of God to change lives through ordinary people like us. They become our stories. We've sought and we've seen him be God on our watch and it's wonderful, maybe even more than we ever imagined.
Do you believe it's possible?
In fact, I think it's supposed to be the normal Christian way of life, the biblical way of life. But as I just wrote about my blog just before this one, Christians and churches have this unexamined tendency to coalesce spiritually, ecclesially, and missionally. They get stiff like an old man. Pretty soon we're all walking in place spiritually and it doesn't seem so bad. We don't even know what spiritual fluidity is like or why it's crucial so we settle and congeal.
Again, I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm just finding my way in this, so I need all the help I can get!