Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More on Christian Community

When you stay up talking outside of Starbucks until 2:30 AM on a Monday night, it really sucks away your ability to be awake enough to write anything compelling on a blog the rest of the week.

I'll give it a go anyway.

Many of us are aware that "church" is not just a building or a worship service, but it's a group of people. Christians. Followers of Jesus.

At least that's what we *SAY*. However, a lifetime of preconceived notions about "church" are quite difficult to transform. Regardless of how much I talk about the "community of believers," it is still amazingly hard to back out of my "church" paradigm.

For instance, I think of my small group as just that -- a "small group." It's a subset of my "church." The group of guys that stay up talking late into the night at Starbucks is still, often in my mind, a subset of my "church."

We identify our churches by name. Even if we avoid the term "church" and ask someone, "Where do you go to worship?", we are still wanting to know which specific church they attend -- it's nothing more than semantics.

By putting a name with a church, we generally know a denomination, or at least something about that church's belief structure. I could look up an address, a phone number, a web page. Maybe even find a mission statement or a vision.

The problem with this paradigm is that, while it's handy and efficient when I want to classify and categorize things, it often does very little to foster and create a real Christian community.

You know what? My small group is a church. We're a group of people that care about one another, and we often get together at predetermined times to meet, to eat, to pray, to laugh, to talk, or to study scriptures. At least in our case, there's no real bureaucracy in which we must report our activities up to "the church."

House churches are a fascinating topic. I think it's easy for many of us (me included) to write off some house churches as fringe groups, meeting in somebody's living room, led by some crazy guy who has little to no understanding of the Bible. We look at many of the big churches -- the Church Growth Model megachurches, the House of Hybels and Warren -- and we think, Well, they must be doing something right. Look how many people go there each week!

Many of the megachurches are preaching the gospel, I'm sure. But we cannot look at Sunday morning attendance as a metric of "church success." If 3000 people show up for a Sunday morning service, how many of them are truly experiencing Christian community the rest of the week?

For that matter, how many of them are even experiencing Christian community on Sunday morning?

The idea of some form of communal living continues to intrigue me. Not just for economical and efficiency reasons, but because I believe that in the right context it would be something more. Many of us are looking for something more. Something deeper. Something above and beyond Sunday-morning-centric Christianity.

A way to grow and commune with friends.

A way to grow and know God more deeply.

A way to befriend and reach other people that don't know Jesus.

I look at so many modern churches, and I think, Is this really what God had in mind? I see good things, yes, but I also see so much... fluff. So much stuff. Random ministries that are sucking the life out of volunteers that got pulled into something they had no heart for in the first place. Worship services that require a cast of literally hundreds to produce the show. And then hundreds that attend to watch the show, before leaving with a heart that hasn't been changed in the least.

In the meantime, the Christians that are looking to be fed, the Christians looking for a sense of community, wander about like a boat with no anchor.

They feel at times purposeless and powerless.

Perhaps only within smaller groups, smaller "churches," can we feel that community. That sense of purpose.

Maybe it's just something that you can't foist upon people. Maybe people just have to find it themselves.

Can large churches have true "community"? If so, how do they do it?

3 comments:

void77 said...

No.

(Can large churches have true "community.")

Okay, at least not in the sense that we're talking about. To me, the word community is maybe too vague. It implies organization and structure, albeit loose, but present nonetheless. (I know, more semantics. But hear me out.)

What I think everyone is after is a sense of connectivity. The anonymity you describe in a megachurch's Sunday morning service is deadly. It isolates people. Breeds resentment. Creates mass-apathy. When people connect with one another, passion, energy, excitement, and healing ensue. I just don't believe that the level of connectivity that we (as humans) require can be fully achieved in a large gathering. Which is why smaller groups are required.

Now, obviously, a large body or people can be broken up into various “cell groups” and “small groups.” But typically this implemented as a Bible study of some sort with occasional meals and social gatherings. Additionally, it usually happens under the (loose) guidance of a committee from the larger body. (That “committee” may only be one person, but still, its centrally managed.) (Also, the “guidance” may be nothing more than a census or it could be as dictatorial as mandating curriculum!) On the surface, this sounds like it fits the bill and fixes our connectivity issues.

Wrong.

While I immensely enjoy the two groups I’m involved in (our “cell group” and “Starbuck’s group”), and I feel pretty connected to them, they’re too small to completely fill my idea of “church.” Yep, I just rode the see-saw! On one hand, I want a small, connected group of friends that I can lean on and be leaned on by and that can laugh/cry together. But on the other, I want a larger institution that provides opportunities that simply work better in large groups in American society (logistically, I’m speaking… Cornerstone/PromisKeeper/Illiana pilgrimages, for example.) And, I like the occasional (yes, occasional) large, over-the-top, dare-I-say-“produced” worship gathering. Its fun!!

So, it looks like I’m screwed. I can’t have my cake and eat it too. But wait! Maybe the cake is missing something altogether. Maybe its not really cake right now…Maybe its just a pile of flour and eggs with a gloppy mess of sugar and butter smeared on top. I could eat it, and life would be alright. I WOULD have my cake and eat it too. But something would still be missing. There would be no *reason* for me to eat the cake, other than it felt good to me. No *purpose* for the cake to be there, except to make me fat. I’d just sit around and have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too. There would be no *action* to burn off the cake-calories. Now, if I plastered “Happy Birthday Someone” across the top, then we can assume that I’m at a party. I have a *purpose* for eating the cake. And if it’s a Pump It Up party, well, I’ve probably burned off quite a few calories as well! And, I’ve probably interacted with a group of people. And I’ve probably brought a gift to fill the “need” of the person who the *purpose* is focused on.

I probably need to stop now, but I hope the point has been made. Small community, large community, connectivity on a personal level or grand scale… None of it matters without a purpose. As soon as we start just “having-our-cake-and-eating-it-too,” we begin packing on the calories. And with no action/purpose, we become fat/lazy/apathetic blobs.

Enjoy your day!

Robotface Shumway said...

When you read the title of this entry it out loud it sounds like "Moron Christian Community"

Joe B said...

Wow. Powerful. Well said. Moron this later.