The sheep are grazing on Astroturf.
What's wrong with Astroturf you ask? Sure it looks like grass. Sort of. It is green(ish) and sort of has blades like grass. At a glance it might be mistaken for the real thing but it clearly is not grass upon closer inspection.
Astroturf is great in some ways. It doesn't require much maintenance compared to grass. Whether it rains or not, or the sun shines or not, it looks green week after week. When a game is finished on Sunday afternoon and the crowds leave you can come back the next week and the AstroTurf looks exactly the same as it did when you left it. No mowing. No watering. No fertilizing. It is predictible and uniform, week after week with only minor maintenance. Whether it rains or snows, AstroTurf is the same. That might be OK for a football stadium (although I am morally opposed to playing football on AstroTurf or playing in a dome), it is not OK for the church.
God never intended for His people to be munching on fake plastic grass.
|Jacob Sheep Ram|
Sheep who are fed nothing but AstroTurf will die.
Sheep (and other livestock of course) on pasture are part of a natural cycle. They eat the grass and then they fertilize the pasture and the pasture grows back with the aid of rain and sun. It is a natural, kind of beautiful cycle ordained and instituted by God.
Sure pasture gets muddy. It is unpredictable. It depends on the weather. It is messy and far from neat. Walk around a pasture for very long and you are likely to twist your ankle in a hole or step in some manure. That is what you get when you are being fed with the real stuff!
Now I don't think you can only find true pasture in a certain church model. I have been in some simple/house model gatherings where nobody was being fed or encouraged or equipped. I have been in some meetings with (some) of the trappings of traditional churches where I was greatly edified and encouraged and equipped. Certainly there are aspects of a gathering that are more conducive to feeding others and being fed. I think smaller is better that larger. I think that a meeting where all of the brethren are allowed and encouraged to speak is far better than having only one or a few men speaking. I think that in a traditional setting most of the most crucial aspects of the church are suppressed and often discouraged.
What is truly important is that we have the church functioning in the ways that the Bible describes for feeding the sheep. So how does that happen? It happens primarily in the way we relate to each other...
Fellowship over meals where we laugh and love one another in the vulnerable and intimate setting of eating, something that may or may not take place during every single church gathering and may often take place outside of "official" meetings. Community where our lives overlap more and more as we grow together and not just "at church". A ministry model centered on mutuality and focused on "one anothers". A sense of sharing exhibited by sharing among the church materially/financially, sharing in suffering and in joy alike, sharing in the work of ministry and mercy and evangelism. The special feeding that can come only through exploration of the Scriptures in a community hermeneutic rather than a expert based hermeneutic. Growth through service and ministering to others, one of the most neglected ways we grow. If we never turn teaching into practice, teaching is worthless.
I am less concerned with where that happens. I mostly am concerned that it actually does happen. Every step we take toward simplifying church and make it more about mutuality, the better. Unfortunately there are too many local churches where the sheep are content to graze on AstroTurf even though they are starving. I am not focused on starting up a group that looks just right. I am far more focused on finding people who are open to what God has revealed, who are willing to lay down their expectations and traditions. God has surrounded each of us with people who are His and we need to go to them instead of expecting them to come to us on Sunday. In fact I am less concerned with the "official" church meeting at all and more with how the church relates to one another in our day to day lives.