Friday, January 27, 2012

The gathered church is the result of community

We typically assume that community is manifested when we gather as a local church, whatever form that takes. Our local church becomes our "community" because we have chosen to associate with that particular church. That church might be a traditional church or a "house church" or an urban church or any of the hundreds of different styles and flavors you can find around the country. In other words, we define community largely by whatever manifestation the local church takes on in our lives. My local church is my community.

I would propose that the gathered church is an outgrowth of community in Christ and not the other way around, or at least it should be. So many of us have friends, family and neighbors who are Christians that we spend time with and know very well but we are not associated with the same local church, so we don't view them as part of our church community. I found something that Alan Knox wrote this morning to really tie into this post. Alan wrote about organic church life as being relational, not structural. In speaking of organic church life, rather than "organic church" or "house church", in his post Why Is It So Hard To Find Organic Church Life? Alan said:
A group may have a specific weekly meeting (or more than one) and share this kind of life in Christ. Or, they ma not have a regular weekly meeting. Then again, a group may have a weekly meeting (or even meet together more often) and yet not share their lives with one another in Jesus Christ.

When these groups do get together, it is relational not structural. Thus, as the relationships change or the people involved change, then the group will change as well. It is fluid and dynamic.
It seems that we really do focus on the structure, even unintentionally. I sometimes find myself daydreaming about how an organic, simple church would look but it almost always focuses on the gathering. As I think through this I guess I somehow assume that the gathering will lead to community. If we have just the right kind of gathering, community will spring forth as a result. This sort of structural or model approach might explain in part why so many of us want something more than we find in organized religion but are still searching seemingly in vain for it.

I do not think it is the intent of authors like Frank Viola or Neil Cole to suggest that what we need is to just form "organic" churches or house churches and that will fix our problems but I do think that some people read their works and come away with that impression. At times I know I have! If we look to structural solutions, I think we are going to miss out on the richness of community because there is so much more community out there than we are ever going to experience in church meetings.

For example, this is kind of what our week (tentatively!) looks like...

On Tuesday I spent the evening ministering at the pregnancy resource center. I got to talk to several men in a dad's class on the topic of power and control as fathers, a very interesting conversation with three other men in very different places in their life. I also got to talk for a while with one of the men one on one, a very hard conversation with a man who needs a lot of prayer and mostly needs Jesus but he is also very disenchanted with the church. We got to talk about the Gospel a bit and about the church. I hope it was encouraging to him and that he will keep coming back. During the evening I also got to fellowship with Christians from a wide range of churches who also minister there.

Wednesday I took the kids to an evening activity at a local church and participated in an adult Bible study.

Last night my wife and I had dinner with a couple from a completely different local church. We had a great and very interesting time of fellowship over the table! We also got to talk to a random guy who came up to us and was talking about Catholicism, Mormonism, Mitt Romney, Nostradamus and the end of the world. That is what happens when you go out in public! Best of all we got to clearly declare the Gospel to this man and contrast it with whatever he was talking about. 

Saturday morning we are having breakfast with yet another Christan couple from yet another local church.

Sunday afternoon we are taking the whole family and having a meal with another family in their home.

Yet there is a disconnect. We don't see most of that other list other than the Wednesday evening Bible study as "church", much less "community". Why do we exclude so much of the way we gather together with other Christians from legitimacy? The more I think about it, the more it seems that I am finding "organic church life" or "community" in lots of different places but most of them are outside of what we see as "church". I think that is true for a lot of people who have friends, family and neighbors who are Christians; they spend a lot of time with those Christians but a separate "church" group that they see as community based on where and how they gather.

The order is all backwards. Community must precede "church", in the sense of "church" describing the scheduled, formal gathering of Christians, and "church" proceeds from community. In the times I have described above, I found myself encouraged and stirred up to good works in every event with the exception of the actual meeting at "church". If I am encouraged and edified and stirred up outside of "church" and not so much when I am in "church", which is really "church"?

I see myself moving away from looking for a particular church model or structure and just seeking community with other Christians where my family and I will be encouraged and equipped. Rather than predetermining how that is going to look on Sunday, I am trying to focus on building relationships wherever and however I can and letting it kind of come to whatever form works out, fully recognizing that the form will be pretty malleable and not at all static. Not sure how that is all going to work out but I am confident in God's hand guiding it.


Anonymous said...

Right on!

Good post. Got my capillaries to think.


Arthur Sido said...

Thanks Swanny, I though my post was horrible. Absolutely did not capture what I was trying to say.

co_heir said...

I have recently found that gathering as a church can actually destroy a community.

Arthur Sido said...

Co-Heir, I would like to hear more about that. Did you blog about it?

Marshall said...

Arthur, may we consider that both the gathering of the church and community are an outgrowth (response) to our life in Christ?

co_heir said...

I haven't yet, because there are still some things that are being worked out (hopefully) and it wouldn't be fair to write about them now. Maybe down the road.

Arthur Sido said...


Absolutely. We are bound together by our common redemption and subsequent growth in Christ, first and foremost. That is part of my concern with "inviting people to church" because it brings people into the community of the saints who are not bound by that common redemption and leads to a loyalty to the institution rather than the person.

Arthur Sido said...

co-heir, drop me a note when you do. I would be very interested in reading about your experience.

co_heir said...

Arthur, I don't think I'm going to blog about my recent experience. Essentially what it was was my wife and I had taken a single mom under our wings when she had been treated badly by the group we were meeting with. Over the past year we have poured ourselves into her life, and had become a community together, outside of a church setting. In the fall, we began meeting with a group on Sunday mornings, and it seems that over the past few months our community with this person has suffered. Now she has walked away from us completely, with no explanation and no desire for reconciliation. We have been blindsided hard by this, and I don't know if the dynamics of a regular "church" gathering had anything to do with the destruction of our community and friendship or not.